Author’s Note: This is one of the stories that I have proposed to turn into a book. Leave your comments and let me know if you would be interested in more of the story.
The cave mouth opened up in front of us like a lesser dragon’s maw searching for its prey. It was foreboding, but several members of the township below had disappeared into it. The council hired us to find out what was happening and to take care of the problem. I held the torch up to the mouth of the cave. It was tall enough for me to be able to extend my arm without the flame reaching the roof. My partner leaped up and turned in midair to land upside down. Her leather-clad, three-toed feet grasped the rock of the cave above.
“We ssshould go in, yessss?” she hissed. Her head tilted left and right as she looked at me. I knew that must mean something for those of her kind, but the meaning was lost on me. Looking at her upside down like that would have been more disconcerting if it had been the first time she had done something like that. She usually preferred trees.
“That is the job, Teli.” I confirmed.
Aside from the fact that the cave looked like it wanted to eat us, there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary about it. Teli leaped down to the ground and started ahead of me. She could see better than I could in the dark; my torch would just hinder her. She gave out a whistle, and I started forward. The temperature in the cave dropped dramatically. An involuntary shiver ran through my body. My hand reached for the long sword at my side. With each step, it became colder. Teli’s face appeared out of the darkness as she ran in her serpentine way toward me.
“Isss colder ahead. Infessstation. Iccce worssshippersss and Her embodiment. Cavern empty of life.”
“Ice worshippers.” That would explain it. I thought back to my childhood. My mom was lured by a vision of my little brother, I saw them head into the forest behind my home when I was too young to do anything. My father found her frozen corpse with no sign of my brother’s body, who had been dead from a plague for over a year. It was part of what drove me to become an Ice Hunter. I gripped the torch tighter.
Ice was a precious commodity among the rich, and the worshippers had figured out how to harvest it from the heat of the human body. The main mechanism of the ice creation process involved an alabaster idol placed inside a tar-covered bucket. I didn’t understand the magic behind it. I just knew how to foil it. I put my pack on the floor and pulled out the woodsman idol – sandstone and fir to replace the alabaster. I handed it to Teli and left the pack where it was. “You ready?”
“Alwaysss.” She jumped up to the ceiling and disappeared in the darkness.
I followed with my sword drawn and my torch held in my right hand. I wasn’t naturally left-handed, but I could do well enough. Besides, fire seemed to be more effective against the guardians of chambers like these. The cavern opened up into a huge chamber. At the far end of the torchlight, I could see the frozen corpses of those who had been lured here. The ice glowed with its own power. There were threads of it throughout the cave. All led to or from the corpses. Bad news for the town and the council. Teli stood at the side of the dais. Her hands wrapped around the ice goddess’ embodiment.
“On my count.”
Teli was stronger and quicker than I was. It would still take her some time to remove the alabaster statue.
“3… 2… 1…” I widened my stance and pointed my torch to the back wall. “NOW!”
Teli grabbed the statue. A wind whipped up and blew through the cavern. It gained force and threatened to blow out the torch. The cold bit into my fingers as a howl set up from behind the ice corpses. I could see Teli out of the corner of my eye working at the alabaster. I kept faced forward to see the threat before it was on us. My eyes watered from the bitter cold of the wind. My knuckles and fingers ached.
There was a crack at the side as Teli ripped the alabaster free. The banshee screamed from the roof of the cavern at the desecration of the sacred object and headed straight toward Teli. I stepped in front of it and swung with the torch. The banshee passed through me. The torch went out, and I dropped my sword as my body shuddered from the cold. The banshee reared up above me and dove again at Teli. I could see it emanating the same light as the ice around it.
Teli dropped the woodsman and let out a blood-curdling screech. The banshee fought against the sound with the blood curdling yell its kind was known for. I ignored the urge to curl up into a ball and grabbed the woodsman. The banshee was getting closer to Teli. I set the woodsman in the bucket and turned it trying to find the connection. The banshee stretched its arms toward my partner. The woodsman clicked into place, and the banshee disappeared. Teli stopped her screech and doubled over with exhaustion.
“Clossse,” she breathed heavily.
“Yes, it was. Nice work.” I yelled. My ears were ringing.
Teli’s inner eye lids flicked over her eyes in the way that I understood meant “Thank you.”
“Let’s go tell the council. They’ll need to send people out to clear this cavern and destroy it.”
Teli looked at me curiously. Here head tilting left and right. “Iccce, wood, wind, fire, tar…”
“The elements were all here today. As long as they are opposed to each other, the power will remain in balance. Should they ever come together, we will have a much tougher job. Now, let’s go collect our bounty. I could use an ale to warm me up.” We left the cavern and headed toward town.