Part 1--The Grasp of Winter (2)

(Yes it's long, but each section will get shorter, I promise! Please read to the end!)

The sub-zero winds raking their claws across the icy moonlit plain shot daggers at Mathew's exposed skin. Wrapped in nothing but a small coat, blanket, and boots, trying to battle his way through the fierce, unmerciful arctic wasteland known simply as the North Lands, most would think Mathew crazy if they didn't know that his city was ablaze, didn't hear the screams and shouts or see the golden-red flames lighting up the night with a devilish red glow, slowly painting the stone of the city black, and turning the wood to ash.

Holding back tears, Mathew stopped staggering through the snowy storm and silently gazed back upon the glowing, red, ever-devouring monster of unquenchable fire that had swallowed his home. The thick, solid stone walls of the city had collapsed, revealing burning dwellings of the brave Barthadites, people of the North Lands, abandoned shops and businesses collapsing, an invading army pillaging and killing any who had managed to escape their burning homes. As Mathew watched, the top tower of the fortress of King Alabaster collapsed from an explosion at its base. The invaders from Obsidia let out a great cheer, a cry of victory echoing through the night. Atop the mound of rubble that used to be the majestic tower, seen from miles around as a beacon for Barthadites and lost travelers alike, a single banner was raised: a navy blue coat of arms with the head of a snake on it. This was the symbol of Obsidia. This was the mark of the great empire of the south that had nearly conquered the entire continent in less than a decade. This was the sign of defeat.

Tears, ice-cold, were now streaming down Mathew's face as he remembered his last words with his father, King Alabaster. The two had tried to escape the throne room as it collapsing, and the king had been pinned to the ground by a mass of falling wooden logs from the ceiling.

Mathew gasped, eyes wide in terror and disbelief. “Father! No!”

He rushed over to the king, crippled by five hundred pounds of roof on his back. Mathew pulled and tugged at the wood that trapped his father, although he knew it was in vain. He strained himself more than he ever had before, but the mound of cruel wooden logs didn’t budge an inch. Mathew was sobbing before he even reached his father, who struggled to speak as the air was squeezed from his lungs like the air in a deflating balloon.

"Mathew... my son," the king coughed and groaned, "They will... go after you. *wheeze* You are... my son... heir to the throne..."

"No, Father, please," Mathew had cried, "Don't go. You can't leave me. Please."

"My time has run out, Mathew, as everyone’s is meant to someday. You are now... king... *cough* of this land. They will hunt you... try to destroy you... You must keep our kingdom alive, son..." King Alabaster said as his eyes began to go out of focus, his breathing a slow, painful rasp.

Mathew had tried to say something, but he was sobbing too hard. His father, taking Mathew's hand, then spoke the last words ever to be formed by his breath: "Guard our secret... find the Mountain... seek refuge there. I love you, Mathew, as did your mother. Don't ever forget..."

And with that, the king passed on. In his hand was a worn-out, faded piece of parchment, with a map of their part of the North Lands. The sea was to the west, uncharted, inhospitable land was to the north. To the southeast, there was Dorwood Forest and the great mountain at the heart of the woods.

Mathew had taken the map from his father, wondering if its contents contained the secret that he had been speaking of. He could make no more sense of the map than he could accept that his father was dead. His father, the king. As pale as snow and as cold as stone, buried beneath dead, burning wood. Entombed in his own fortress.

Sprinting through the burning fortress, his knuckles white around the map from King Alabaster, Mathew charged through the collapsing halls. He had lived there his whole life; he knew the quickest route to escape. He barely managed to slip out through a side entrance before another explosion blocked the way he had come from. After taking a half-second frantic glance at the fire consuming everything around him, Mathew honed in on his path to freedom. He narrowly managed to escape through a crumbled section of the wall around the city, and from there he ran, and he didn’t stop until he was far away and he--

MRAAAAAAAA! The bone-rattling cry of a battle horn shook Mathew from his thoughts. He watched in horror as a group of soldiers on sleds came out of the gates of the burning fortress, heading straight towards him. He remembered what his father had said, that they would be hunting him too.

Mathew frantically looked over the map and decided that an escape in Dorwood Forest would be his only chance. Turning around, his tears beginning to freeze on his cheeks, he stumbled blindly to the dark line of trees to the north that was Dorwood forest, the snarls and growls of the sled dogs being used to hunt him becoming louder and louder as he went.

The End

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