The Adventure Never Ends...

  Midwinter's Night

And so it was that the Prince of Shadows and Illusions was defeated and imprisoned within that same relic from which he had burst forth to spread mist across the world. Great honor was accorded to the Fellowship’s eight heroes. Already they had saved the world from devouring darkness, and so too had they now rescued it from the smothering fog.

The seasons turned, and clouds gathered in the north. Leaves drifted loose from branches, and were carried away by chill breezes. Snow fell, and great evergreen trees were placed in the Questport Square in celebration of the Solstice. And in the Sacred Grove to the south of the village, the leaves of the Tree of Light quietly began to wither...

Of Janarin and the Everlasting Fire

 Part One

Warm and cheerful is the Questport Temple on this cold Midwinter’s Day; a fire crackles in the hearth and garlands of evergreen bedeck the walls, filling the air with their crisp scent. The table still groans beneath the weight of dishes that have already been picked clean of food. On the wall hangs a battered circular mirror with a strangely foggy surface. It, too, is decorated with clumps of mistletoe and bright scarlet ribbons. The feast is almost done with, and the visitors to the Temple are relaxed and content.
    The Lord of the Supreme Council, the High Priestess, and the Fairy Queen sit at the table, matching wits in a peculiar game with lettered tiles that the Fairy Queen has just invented. At the other end of the table, Gawain, Ato, the Chief Builder, and the Master of Coin play poker while the Secret-Keeper watches in disapproval. Emmy and Tulip try out the new wands that the Fairy Queen has bestowed upon them, turning the wreaths and garlands to outlandish colors. Scorpio and Spiro are still eating, daring one another to try the roast chimera. Mei is sitting in the corner, reading a history of the Ravens of Nightwings Isle. Shadowa plays with the Hound of Questport near the fire, while the Head Scholar takes notes on the curious behavior of the Demon Bunny. Jaheira and Acre are mixing potions, grinning wickedly all the while. Conspicuously absent are Djadan and Queen Mavia—having just recently been married, they are honeymooning in the queen’s home country of Syria.

As the games and laughter continue within the Temple, the sun sinks below the horizon. In the quiet of the Sacred Groves, the radiance of the Tree of Light flickers and dims. With a sound like a soft sigh, its leaves fall to the ground, leaving its branches cold and bare. Midwinter’s Night has begun.

Back in the Temple, the party has grown slightly louder. Ato, the Chief Builder, and the Master of Coin are shouting at Gawain, accusing him of cheating. Ato goes so far as to flourish a knife before the Lord of the Supreme Council intervenes. Scorpio, having finished the entire wild boar, belches hugely and leaves the table. Grinning, the druids pour a hissing green potion into a large decanter, which begins to smoke ominously.
    The door of the Temple bursts open with a loud crash.
    Nearly everyone leaps to his or her (or its) feet, startled. With a chilling laugh, the Lord of Angels and Demons strides into the room, trailed by a trio of gremlins. Still chortling, he surveys the room with the air of a conqueror.
    The Lord of the Supreme Council, giving the intruders the full force of her icy glare, sternly asks the Lord of Angels and Demons just what he thinks he is doing. With a mocking bow, the lord replies that he is the new ruler of Questport. In the absence of the protective powers of the Tree of Light, he has sent his sorcery across Questport and supplanted the enchantments of the Supreme Council. By the time the Tree of Light is restored, it will be too late to stop him.

    Everyone reacts incredulously. The members of the Fellowship reach for their weapons, only to remember that they had left them outside. The Lord of the Supreme Council stares at the druids, aghast. The High Priestess demands to know if this is true.
    Jaheira and Acre talk quietly for a few moments. After some discussion, they announce that it is possible that the spell the had cast upon the Yostwell’s Light could have had that effect, although they had not thought of it at the time. It is true: Questport is defenseless.
    Swirling his cloak theatrically, the Lord of Angels and Demons throws back his head and laughs manically. At long last, Questport is his!
    The Lord of the Supreme Council starts forwards angrily, looking as if she would like to punch him. Ato—clearly having misremembered the provision against weapons in the Temple—draws yet another dagger from the sleeve of his cloak and prepares to throw it. The Demon Bunny bares its teeth and growls at the gremlins.
    Suddenly, all the lights in the Temple go out, and the fire is abruptly extinguished. Wind howls across the roof and under the door.  Frost spreads icy tendrils across the windowpanes as the temperature in the Temple plunges.

 Part Two

After a few moments of confusion, the Fairy Queen causes a large sphere of light to appear in the center of the room. Its pale rays illuminate a thick layer of frost that has spread across the walls and floor. Great icicles hang ominously from the ceiling, and the table is covered with close to two inches of ice. The fire in the hearth appears to have frozen.
    Nor is it all that has frozen. The Lord of the Supreme Council is trapped in a thin cocoon of ice, rendering her completely immobile. Only her eyes can move, blinking in shock and outrage.
    The occupants of the Temple are stunned speechless. Before they can move, a sinister voice oozes from the walls; speaking in tones so frosty they almost numb the listeners’ ears.
    “How foolish of you to leave this little realm undefended,” the voice hisses, “and on such a powerful night as the Solstice, when any passing spirit could blunder in and seize it. Now this village will sleep forever, in eternal winter.”
    The Fairy Queen brandishes her wand angrily and demands that the speaker show him/herself. The sinister voice laughs coldly, and a sharp crack near the ceiling makes everyone look up. A huge icicle falls from the rafters, plunging like a sword of Damocles and embedding itself in the table.
    Another chill laugh echoes from the walls, and then the candles slowly glimmer back to life as the malign presence departs. The snow on the floor remains unchanged, as does the ice encasing the Lord of the Supreme Council.
    The Lord of Angels and Demons lets out a cry of horror. Only minutes before, he had been the ruler of Questport. But now he has been replaced, shoved aside by a more powerful entity.
    After a few minutes of chaotic shouting, the Fairy Queen takes charge. They must not panic, she insists. Questport has never before fallen to a malevolent foe such as this. It shall not do so now!
    Her brave words bring new courage to the hearts of the Fellowship. They all agree that something must be done—and quickly, before the Tree of Light revives. But what?
    Time to get out the Book of Knowledge. The revered tome is covered with a thin skein of ice, but that cracks easily as they open the cover. The Fairy Queen poses the question: What is this foe, and how are we to drive it away?
    In a matter of seconds, writing appears on the blank pages.

Janarin, wicked winter’s heart
Holds frozen Questport in her spell
Her demon powers are so great
Even fire they can quell
But a forgotten Everlasting Flame
May yet stave off encroaching cold
If retrieved by valiant hearts
And held in hands of heroes bold
Three embers hold back the night:
In earth, in sea, in air
Frozen mountain, coldest ice
Crystal heart without compare
Unite the flames and face the cold
Before the break of day
And winter, faced with sudden spring
Shall melt and fade away

    As soon as the Fellowship has finished reading, the words melt back into the page. Silence reigns as everyone digests the new clues. Finally, the High Priestess speaks up. Well, she says, some parts of it are obvious. There is a fire that can defeat this ice-demon, and it’s hidden in the mountains, the sea, and… somewhere underground?
    Lacking the Lord of the Supreme Council, it is some time before the Fellowship can get organized. After some argument discussion, it is decided that they must split up. Although the Fellowship always travels in a group, there is simply too much ground to cover—especially if, as the Book says, they must do it all before sunrise.
    Mei, Emmy, Ato, and Tulip are tasked with searching the lake—although there is some debate as to how useful Ato will be, as he cannot fly. Shadowa, Scorpio, Jaheira, Acre, and the Fairy Queen will search for the flame in the earth, which has something to do with a crystal heart. Gawain, Spiro, and the trusty Hound of Questport will hunt in the mountains—accompanied by the Lord of Angels and Demons! For, the Fairy Queen explains, they don’t exactly trust him enough to leave him in the Temple. The Supreme Council members—the Master of Coin, the Secret-Keeper, the Head Scholar, and the Chief Builder—will remain behind, guarding the Temple and the still-frozen Lord of the Supreme Council.
    The heroes reclaim their weapons, bundle up warmly, tuck a few warmth potions (prepared by the druids) into their pockets, and leave with great speed. As the Supreme Council members bid them farewell, the Head Scholar winks at Shadowa and tells her to remember the Maypole.

 Part Three

“Keep up, Ato!” Tulip shouts, as the fairies and the Avia sail through the night sky. Ato plods behind them, struggling through the massive snowdrifts and muttering angrily to himself. They are at the shore, preparing to start their search for the Everlasting Fire.
    All of Questport is blanketed with ice and snow, and an eerie quiet reigns. The lake is frozen thickly, and huge icicles festoon the battlements of the Castle by the Lake. All four heroes give the fortress a wide berth, remembering their unpleasant encounter with the Queen of Rogues and Robbers.
    Mei swoops close to the surface of the lake, studying the deep ice. Emmy and Tulip follow her, their wings shimmering in the darkness. Ato trudges onto the ice, still grumbling.
    They search for hours, not certain exactly what they are looking for. All four are growing cold and irritable, not to mention worried that the other teams have already returned by now. Snow falls softly from the cloudy sky.
    Suddenly the elf lets out an exclamation of surprise. Through the thick ice, he can clearly see a bright, flickering golden light. The others gather around, and they stare at the light intently. It must be the Everlasting Fire: no other flame could withstand the chill water of the lake.
    After a moment of thought, Mei directs a burst of magic at the ice. It crumbles smoothly, leaving a deep circular hole. Lake water, dark beneath the starless sky, ripples softly in the depths of the hole. The fire, apparently, is underwater.
    Ato pulls off his cloak and boots. Before any of the others can stop him, he dives into the opening in the ice, sinking rapidly into the frigid water. Mei, Tulip, and Emmy exchange horrified looks.
    After a few tense moments the elf bobs to the surface again, clutching something tightly in his left hand. Mei hauls him out of the water, berating him sternly all the while. The fairies wrap him in a thick cloak and force him to drink one of the warming potions.
    Half an hour passes, and Ato unfreezes enough to be able to open his clenched fingers and look upon the prize he has braved the depths of the lake for.
For a moment, our four heroes believe that they’ve found the wrong treasure. The item that Ato has pulled from the icy depths is a many-faceted diamond, about the size of Emmy’s fist. It glitters bleakly in the darkness, and the members of the Fellowship feel their hearts sink. This obviously isn’t the Everlasting Fire.
    It is getting close to midnight, and the sky is blanketed with thick snow clouds. Mei, having trouble seeing, lights a torch. As the rays of light from the small fire strike the diamond in Ato’s hand, it flares brilliantly. Golden flames surround the suddenly glowing gem, giving off a palpable heat. Strangely, it doesn’t burn the elf’s hand.
    The heroes smile and sigh with relief. Ato carefully tucks the gem into a pouch on his belt, and they head back across the thick ice towards the shore.

 Part Four

The snow of the Questport Square is vividly marked with the dark tracks of many pacing feet. The Fairy Queen paces still, her translucent wings fluttering with agitation. Scorpio watches her warily, the tip of his scaly tail flicking aimlessly across the snow. Shadowa and the druids sit on a stone bench; all three are evidently deep in thought.
    The past hours have held nothing but frustration for the heroes. Every attempt to ascertain the location of the Everlasting Fire has ended in bitter defeat. They first tried a Seek spell, which only pointed straight down—clearly it was malfunctioning. Then they had consulted the Book of Knowledge, but the Book would not answer their entreaties, repeating only the original rhyme it had given them. All five had racked their brains to try to recall any scrap of knowledge about a crystal heart, but they could not think of anything.
    Shadowa frowns, tapping her fingers against the hilt of her poisoned sword. The Head Scholar’s words are repeating over and over in her mind: Remember the Maypole.
    The Maypole? Did the Scholar mean the Great Maypole that the Fellowship had seen almost two years ago?
    The Great Maypole… It wasn’t even in Questport at the moment; it only manifested itself near the Summer Solstice.
    A crystal heart, and a maypole…
    “Eureka!” Shadowa cries, leaping to her feet. The other heroes jump, startled. Shadowa grins at them, revealing pointy fangs. “The Everlasting Fire… is in the Great Cavern!”
    Scorpio and the druids look baffled, but the Fairy Queen understands at once. The Great Cavern is a huge cave far below Questport, the resting place of the hallowed Heart of Earth. The Fellowship had been there once before, two summers ago, when they used the power of the Heart of Earth to cleanse the Everpure Fountain.
    The five heroes make great haste to the secret door that leads to the catacombs beneath the Temple, and eventually to the cavern. The door, behind the Questport Tavern, is nearly buried beneath the thick layer of snow. The Fairy Queen draws a great ring of keys from her belt, and fits a rough, rectangular key into the keyhole.
    The door opens, revealing a dark, musty-smelling passageway. Thick layers of dust enshroud the flagstone floor; this place evidently hasn’t been entered for months. The Fairy Queen lights a torch, and Scorpio, Shadowa, and the druids follow her down the hallway and into the dark catacombs.
 

 Part Five

One league north of Questport, the Coronet Mountains stand out starkly against the sky. Despite the thick clouds covering the moon, the heavy layers of snow on the mountains give off a faint luminescence. The mountains are gigantically tall, reaching high enough that their peaks are hidden in the clouds. In the ancient times, they were thought to support the entire sky.
    Gawain, lantern in hand, moves lightly through the deep snow. The Hound of Questport bounds at his side, occasionally barking excitedly. Behind them, the Lord of Angels and Demons struggles through the drifts, trying in vain to keep his expensive cloak from getting wet. Spiro brings up the rear, watching the Lord of Angels and Demons distrustfully.
    An hour or so elapses, and the mountains grow steadily closer. The temperature drops rapidly, until even the Hound is shivering. The Lord of Angels and Demons is muttering something under his breath; Spiro winces when his ears pick up the words.
    Abruptly, a huge shape looms out of the darkness. Gawain skids to a rather ungraceful halt, one hand already on the hilt of his sword. The Lord of Angels and Demons conjures a sphere of green fire, and Spiro readies his weapons.
    The creature winces at the sudden brightness of the sorcerous fire, and shields its eyes with one shaggy-furred arm. It is a huge beast—at least twice Gawain’s height and breadth—and covered with thick white fur. The intimidating effect of the large tusks by its mouth is somewhat softened by the patched woolen scarf wrapped around its neck.
    “Who goes there?” Gawain shouts, drawing his sword.
    The creature frowns, and replies somewhat confusedly that it’s a yeti, by the name of Yeto. He’s hunting deer to make a nice venison stew.
    Gawain and Spiro relax slightly, although the Lord of Angels and Demons refuses to let go of the magical fire he has summoned. Gawain tells Yeto that they are going to the Coronet Mountains, and asks if he has ever heard of the Everlasting Fire.
    Yeto frowns. After a moment, he replies that he’d never heard of an "Everlasting Fire” before, but every denizen of the mountains knows that the fire lives at the peak of the tallest mountain. They can go see it for themselves, if they want.
    The elf courteously thanks the yeti for his information, and Yeto wanders off in a southerly direction. The heroes consult the Lord of Angels and Demons, and they decide that they might as well take the yeti’s advice.
    The Lord of Angels and Demons whines and grumbles. He wishes he’d never come along on this expedition, and says he wants to turn back to Questport. Gawain and Spiro both give him icy looks, and he reluctantly follows them towards the mountains.

 Part Six

The path through the Old Forest is steep and icy, and the going is slow. Despite the warmth potions and his heavy cloak, Ato’s teeth are chattering and his face is blue with cold. The other members of the Fellowship watch him worriedly even as they struggle through the thick snow.
    It is after midnight by now, and the forest is oppressively dark. Snow gleams faintly here and there amid the dark trunks. Mei is carrying a torch, but it has burned so low that it is nearly singeing her fingertips. The flames flicker weakly, and as a gust of wind catches them, they go out entirely.
    The heroes stop, and Mei drops the used-up torch in disgust. She stares down at the charred stick for a moment, wondering what seems so odd about it. Suddenly she realizes: she can still see it! It ought to be pitch-dark in the forest now, but instead a silvery light illuminates the trees.
    The road in front of them is filled with pale figures, little more than silver-white outlines against the dark trees. They are vaguely human in appearance, except for the lacy wings sprouting from their shoulders. They give off a sense of extreme cold.
    The tallest of the figures steps forward smoothly and bows. Hesitantly, the heroes return the gesture.
    “We are the Lossë,” the apparition says, in a voice like the winter wind. “We search for the one we have lost. Have you seen her?”
    The members of the Fellowship exchange glances. After a moment, Emmy replies, “Um, no. We haven’t seen her.” She shrugs nervously.  
    The figure inclines his head gravely. “Then we shall continue our search.” Without another word, the spirits fade away slowly. The faint glow vanishes, and the forest is dark once more.
    Tulip frowns. “That was weird.” The other heroes agree. After looking around carefully to make sure there are no other spirits lurking nearby, they continue the treacherous climb through the forest to the village of Questport.

 Part Seven

Frost silvers the rocks of the Great Cavern, glittering slightly in the torchlight. Drifts of snow cover the ground, despite there being no way into the cavern save through the secret tunnel. The Fairy Queen frowns grimly, saying that the influence of the ice-demon is being manifested even in this hallowed cavern. They have no time to waste!
    The five heroes spread out and search the entire cave. Even though there is only one torch, there is plenty of light to see by: the Heart of Earth gives off great pulses of light in every color of the rainbow.
    The Heart of Earth, a diminutive lump of crystal with a barely-visible flaw near the center, sits on a small pedestal in the center of the cavern. This relic, smaller than the average snowball, is the focal point for the powers of the earth itself, holding them carefully in balance.
    It is covered with a thin rime of ice, but its colors still show through brightly. Janarin the ice-spirit, it seems, cannot quench the power of the earth. The Fairy Queen breathes a sigh of relief.
    The druids run back to the Fairy Queen from the far end of the cavern, where they had been searching a jumbled pile of rocks that had apparently fallen from the roof. Acre is clutching a large diamond, and both druids are shouting and yelling excitedly. The Fairy Queen is about to speak to them sternly—they should be searching for the Everlasting Fire, not getting distracted by pretty baubles—but then the torchlight strikes the diamond. Blue flames blossom in Acre’s hand as the Everlasting Fire responds to the light.
    The Fairy Queen calls to Scorpio and Shadowa, and the heroes leave the sacred cavern. Behind them, the Heart of Earth still pulses with radiance.
    Halfway up the hallway through the catacombs, the adventurers receive a nasty surprise. A thick sheet of ice fills the entire hallway, sealing them off from the door.
    A silvery laugh emanates from the walls. “Poor silly mortals, did you think that you’ve won? I know about the Everlasting Fire, and I know that you know as well.” The voice sharpens, razor ice slicing at their ears. “None of you will ever return from this quest alive.”
    Scorpio roars in outrage, and unleashes a jet of flame, nearly frying Shadowa. The barrier of ice hisses and steams, but doesn’t melt. Janarin’s laughter echoes through the hallway.
    Jaheira grabs the Everlasting Fire from Acre and throws it. It strikes the sheet of ice, enveloping it in blue flames. The ice shatters, and the shards melt swiftly into pools of freezing water.
    The Fairy Queen steps around one puddle, picks up the Everlasting Fire, and pockets it. “Hurry,” she urges, waving the other heroes forwards. They race down the passageway, banging through the secret door and out into the night.

 Part Eight

“This is ludicrous!” the Lord of Angels and Demons shouts. Neither Gawain nor Spiro deigns to reply, although the Hound of Questport barks rather sternly. The four are struggling up the side of the tallest mountain of the Coronet Mountains. Nearly three feet of snow cover the slope, concealing all manner of rocks and hollows. Spiro has already fallen, as has the Lord of Angels and Demons. Only Gawain, with his elvish reflexes, has been able to keep his feet.
    “We must turn back,” the lord continues. “To base all of our hopes on the babblings of some yeti—“
    “We’re not turning back,” Gawain growls, clinging to his last shreds of patience. The Lord of Angels and Demons begins to reply, but another voice suddenly interrupts.
    “Hello? Are you travelers?”
    Gawain whirls around and sees a vaguely luminescent figure standing a few feet away. The figure is taller than either Spiro or Gawain, and delicate blue wings spread from its shoulders. Except for the wings it would appear human—if it weren’t for the blue-white light spreading from it. It is clothed in a white robe and blue-tinted armor, and a sword is strapped to its belt.
    The Hound of Questport barks furiously. Nervously fingering his arrows, Gawain asks the stranger to identify his/her/itself.
    The aura of light obscures the stranger’s face, but the heroes all feel as if the stranger is smiling as it answers. “My name is Methodios. I am a wandering member of the Lossë.” A sudden chill accompanies the words, as if the temperature had dropped even farther.
    The adventurers identify themselves and explain that they are searching for the Everlasting Fire, in order to combat the spell of winter that holds Questport in its grip. Methodios seems intrigued by this, and asks if he might accompany them. A fierce debate ensues: Gawain and Spiro are all for it, while the Lord of Angels and Demons insists that they don’t need any extra “baggage.” The other two eventually overrule him, and accept Methodios’s proposal.
    Two more hours pass before they reach the summit of the mountain. The weather grows colder still, not only from the height but also from the ever-strengthening effects of the ice demon’s spell. The group hikes in silence except for the occasional angry word when one of them slips on the steadily more treacherous footing. The Lord of Angels and Demons had ceased complaining, but he eyes Methodios warily. The Lossë swordsman says little, and refuses to reveal his motive for asking to travel with them.
    The peak of the tallest mountain is high in the clouds, and the adventurers are soon making their way through a thick fog. It is still pitch-dark, but the Lord of Angels and Demons conjures a small ball of light and causes it to float a few feet in front of them. That, combined with Methodios’s glow, gives them a meager range of visibility.
    Suddenly a deep chasm appears right at their feet, plunging far enough that it seems to split the mountain in two. A thin bridge of ice spans the abyss, but it looks frail enough that even the Hound’s weight could cause it to collapse.
    With a warbling cry, a huge red bird swoops out of the fog. It flares crimson wings and flies towards the chasm, perching on the very edge. It tilts its head to the side and regards the heroes with beady black eyes.
    The Lord of Angels and Demons sighs with disgust. “It’s a phoenix,” he growls. “A fire spirit. That’s what that brainless yeti was talking about. We’ve wasted half the night for nothing!”

    The phoenix caws harshly, shaking its crested head from side to side. Gawain frowns. Experimentally, he says, “It wasn’t a waste?” The bird chips enthusiastically.
    Spiro squints at the far side of the gorge, straining to see in the dim light. “It looks like there’s a cave over there!” he shouts. The phoenix warbles with delight, its eyes sparkling.
    Rolling his eyes, the Lord of Angels and Demons sends the small sphere of light across the rift. It illuminates a shallow cave, little more than a dent in a solid rock outcropping. The rays of light shed by a sphere illuminate a small, glittering object on the floor of the cave. Blood red flames flower in the depths of the little cave.
    Spiro gasps. Gawain grins, and delicately pats the phoenix’s wing. The phoenix trills once, pokes the elf’s hand with its beak, and then flaps its large wings and soars away.
    Eager to reach the Everlasting Fire, Spiro head towards the narrow bridge. He skids on an icy rock and nearly falls. A wickedly sharp spear flashes through the space where his head had been a moment before.
    A tall, impossibly thin creature stands challengingly on the bridge, one long-fingered hand clutching a spear that resembles an elongated icicle. The creature, itself resembling an icicle, seems to have been carved entirely from ice, except for two tiny red eyes that glitter with malice.
    The Lord of Angels and Demons sends a jet of dark sorcery at it, but the magic strikes the monster’s icy carapace and glances harmlessly off. Gawain fires four arrows at it in rapid succession, just as Spiro strikes it with his grappling hook. The hook bounces away, chipped, and the arrows lodge in the creature’s armor.
    It advances upon the adventurers, striking out with its spear. Methodios batters at it with his sword, but the monster parries his attack and stabs him right through the heart. Methodios sags, clutching his chest. The other three heroes retreat steadily beneath an onslaught of blows.
    A harsh cry echoes across the mountaintop, and the phoenix dives out of the clouds. It strikes the sinister creature, and a burst of fire consumes them both. The ice creature rapidly melts, and the phoenix disintegrates into ashes.
    Methodios regains his feet, and tersely explains that since the Lossë are spirits, what appeared to be a fatal blow was mostly harmless. The other adventurers are, fortunately, uninjured.
    As the Hound of Questport is the lightest, he is sent across the bridge. The dog returns quickly, carrying a large diamond in his mouth. As Gawain reaches for it, the Lord of Angels and Demons shoots a bolt of sorcery at the elf’s head and tries to wrest the Everlasting Fire away from the Hound.
    Methodios and Spiro quickly grab the demon lord, who smiles weakly and explains that it was just a joke. Eh heh heh.
    Momentary treachery disregarded, the heroes head back down the mountain. They must hurry if they are to reach the Temple before daybreak. At the top of the mountain, a tiny bird pokes its head out of the ashes of the dead phoenix. It chirps once, preens its crimson wings, and then flies away.

 Part Nine

Dawn draws near, and the Temple is full of anxious heroes. Mei, Ato, Emmy, and Tulip returned hours ago, and the Fairy Queen, Scorpio, Shadowa, and the druids arrived not long after that. But there is a scant hundred minutes of Midwinter’s Night remaining, and there is no sign of Gawain, Spiro, and the Lord of Angels and Demons.
    “Where can they be?” the Fairy Queen shouts. Before anyone can reply, the door of the Temple bursts open with a loud crash. With a chilling laugh, the Lord of Angels and Demons strides into the room.
    Everyone rolls their eyes, and ignores him, focusing instead on the two members of the Fellowship accompanying him—and the strange, glowing figure standing next to Spiro.
    After some hurried introductions, Gawain produces the final gem of the Everlasting Fire, and sets it on the table next to the other two. Everyone cheers. After that, there is a moment of confusion. What do they do next?
    Out comes the Book of Knowledge again. The Book seems to be irritated at being consulted so many times in one night, for the answer is a long time in appearing.
    When it does show up, it is short and to the point.

Place the Everlasting Fire upon the Altar of the Sun’s Shadow.
Speak aloud the Word of Beginning:
Cuivië
And illuminate the fire with a lantern.

    Well, at least it’s fairly straightforward. Mei, Shadowa, and Gawain each take a gem from the table. But before they can take a single step towards the door, an icy laugh freezes them where they stand.

 Part Ten

Janarin laughs again, and even the boldest hearts among the Fellowship quail. For what is more frightening even than the triumph in the laugh is that it issues forth from the mouth of the Lord of the Supreme Council.
    The Lord of the Supreme Council, no longer trapped within the icy cocoon, moves to stand between the heroes and the doorway to the Temple. “You fools,” she says with Janarin’s voice, “you’re trapped. Now you will all be frozen.”
    She gestures, and an icy nimbus forms around her hand. The members of the Fellowship look at one another in horror. They have to do something, but they don’t dare harm the Lord of the Supreme Council.
    The ice-demon gestures, and a huge chunk of ice forms in the air around the heroes. Most of them dive out of the way, but Ato, the Secret-Keeper, and the Master of Coin are all trapped within the huge frozen mass.
    Laughing wildly, the spirit unleashes more of her power, sending an arctic gale howling across the length of the Temple. The druids are knocked off their feet, the Hound of Questport flies across the room and smashes into the far wall, and Emmy and Tulip are forced to grab onto the heavy table to maintain their balance.
    The Lord of Angels and Demons grimly readies a bolt of sorcery. He, out of all the people in the Temple, has no qualms about striking down the Lord of the Supreme Council, especially in defense of his own life.
    An earsplitting thunderclap sounds, and lightning strikes the roof of the Temple. The bolt punches a jagged hole through the ceiling tiles and strikes the floor, leaving a large scorch-mark. Down through the hole fly two winged figures—the larger one has wings the color of midnight, the smaller one’s feathers are like freshly fallen snow. Djadan and Queen Mavia have returned from Syria to save the day!
    Djadan again unleashes his sorcery, using a gust of air to pin the Lord of the Supreme Council to the wall. Janarin screams in anger, and causes ice to form on his wings. Djadan plummets to the ground, and his spell falters.
    Before the ice-demon can escape, Queen Mavia darts forwards. She is holding a small silver chain, from which dangles a jade and gold pendant. With one swift motion, she throws the chain around the possessed woman’s neck and snaps the clasp closed.
    Janarin howls, and the Lord of the Supreme Council trembles uncontrollably. The pendant—a powerful Syrian protective amulet—glows with an emerald light. Suddenly, with a sound like shattering glass, the ice-demon is forced out of the Lord of the Supreme Council’s body.
    The Lord of the Supreme Council faints dead away, and Queen Mavia quickly catches her. The others ignore them: they are focusing on the spirit that is quivering in the center of the Temple.
    The ice spirit is clad in a simple white dress, and her silvery hair is piled on top of her head. Huge blue wings spread from her shoulders. Her face is obscured by a silvery-white glow that seems to emanate from her every pore—oddly similar, in fact, to the glow that surrounds Methodios.

    For a moment Janarin looks dumbstruck. Then, with an angry gesture, she propels an icicle the size of a large sapling towards her foes. Before the deadly missile can reach its target, Djadan sends a gale across the room. The icicle is swept off-course and shatters against the stone wall.
    Mei, Shadowa, and Gawain pull the gems of the Everlasting Fire from their pockets, and hold them up in front of their faces. The Fairy Queen shouts the Word of Beginning, and holds a lantern aloft.
    The gems sparkle with radiance. Each bursts into flame—one gold, one blue, and one crimson. The flames reach out towards Janarin, who cowers away. The other heroes watch silently.
    The temperature in the Temple increases until it feels like a summer’s day. Spreading pools of water cover the floor as the ice and snow melts. Janarin, too, appears to be melting—she seems thinner and smaller than before.
    Following some unspoken command, the bearers of the Everlasting Fire step forwards. The ice spirit shrinks away. Water is running down her face, but no one can tell whether it is melted ice or tears. She beats at the searching flames with hands that are visibly melting.
    “ENOUGH!” a voice roars. Methodios shoves Gawain aside and interposes himself between Janarin and the Everlasting Fire.
    The flames, unable to distinguish friend from foe, tear deep into the spirit. With a muffled cry, the Lossë swordsman sinks down next to Janarin. He, too, is melting.
    Horrified, the heroes pull the Everlasting Fire away from Methodios. Not knowing the Word of Ending, they are unable to put out the Everlasting Fire. The three flames rage, straining towards the two spirits, until the Fairy Queen, the Book of Knowledge in her hand, finally speaks the word that ends the spell.

 Part Eleven

Methodios’s eyes open slowly. The Everlasting Fire has ravaged the spirit: his left arm and the left side of his face are melted completely away, and his left wing is perhaps half its former length. Janarin is little over a third of her previous size; she seems to be a few inches shorter than Tulip.
    The Lord of the Supreme Council stares down at both of them grimly. At the sight of the Lord’s angry face, Janarin whimpers and tries to hide behind Methodios.
    “Would you care to explain yourself?” the Lord of the Supreme Council asks icily.
    Methodios sighs, and glances towards where his left arm had once been. “Janarin… is my sister,” he says quietly. “Long ago, she stole the Winter’s Heart, a holy relic of the Lossë. For that she was cast out. But the Lossë eventually began to rue that decision, and began to search for her.”
    He stares down at his sister, his aura hiding his expression. “They searched for nearly a thousand years,” he says bitterly, “while the power of the Winter’s Heart corrupted her. She… wasn’t always like this. I apologize for the harm she has caused to Questport.”
    The Lord of the Supreme Council frowns. She is about to say something when a soft voice interrupts.
    “I really am sorry.” Janarin hovers slightly off the ground, her blue wings beating gently. “My enchantments have been sundered by the power of the Everlasting Fire, so you need not worry about them.” Her words are confident, but her smile is tremulous. 

 

At that moment, the sun rises above the eastern horizon. In the Sacred Groves, the Tree of Light puts out small, silvery leaves. In a matter of moments, it has begun to flower. The power of the Yostwell’s Light returns, and the defenses of Questport are renewed. The sacred realm of Questport has, once again, survived.