Chapter 13 – Beneath the Ice
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Oak was getting more and more frustrated as the day passed. At first she felt okay about teaming up with Lotus and Dawn, or at least resigned to it and willing to put up with them as they didn't seem interested in her Dima, but when she saw how worried Dima was over their reactions to the cold she couldn’t help but feel jealous. To make matters worse for her, she got the feeling that she didn’t look cute when she used her weapons, especially when she compared her own longswords with Dawn's tiny bone dagger. Her innate cuteness was one of her proudest features, especially the way she could make her light glisten, and seeing her husband have a passing glint of fear in his eyes, whenever she started to swing wildly, really hurt her.

Seeing how happy Dima looked while eating lunch also made her clench her swords harder and look around for more beasts to take it out on. Did he think less of his wife just because she couldn’t cook? She felt that finding out the answer could crush her, so she kept it to herself and let the curiosity eat at her like the termites she had grown up living in fear of. After they had eaten, Oak made a vague excuse for the two groups to separate; something to do with investigating a log sticking out of the surface of the lake, as if that was actually of any interest. With that, she could have more time with just Dima; an opportunity to show off her good points and push out any thoughts he had of other women.

As they approached the iced over water, she noticed that it wasn’t a stick or log, but instead it was a pale woman’s arm, reaching out of the ice and stretching towards the sky. Sweeping away the snow cover, she could see the appearance of an unnatural beauty beneath the ice. Thin, pale with deep black, short-cut hair in a bob and piecing green eyes; with the way the ice was frosted around her head, like a crown, she looked like a queen. Her face seemed to be locked in a state of pure determination, as if she was ice-locked while pushing herself forward to survive, unwilling to let the lake be what bring her down. While Oak admitted that she was defiantly pretty, as if her circumstances were no reason not to look her best, she didn’t like how focused Dima was. If he had time to stare at a woman, he should have just stared at her.

Annoyed at his lack of attention, Oak moved further out, without watching her footing. A thunderous crack suddenly rang out and she could see the ice splitting, breaking way from the shore and spreading throughout the platform like a spiderweb. She turned to reach Dima, but before she could move from that spot, the ground beneath her feet gave out. Trying to hold her breath, she looked around. The cold frosted over her sight. She couldn’t see. Panic rose as she sank further and further. Suddenly, through the blackness, she could feel something wrapping around her, pulling her. While she felt relieved that she was being pulled to the surface, she was panicked by the feeling of cold that invaded her body. Even in the snow, she had never felt the sensation of being cold, and the alien feeling cut into her like a knife. She had thought that the two women were exaggerating the sensation to appeal to her Dima, but the cold was truly painful in a way she had never experienced. She sent a silent apology to the two, understanding that her experience of was shallow. 

With the painful cold invading her body, and regret invading her mind, she let out her breath and fainted beneath the water.

 

When she awoke, she was next to the fire, its welcoming glow seeping the cold from her bark. Her armour had been removed and she was placed between thick leopard pelts. Looking around, she could see that her vision was still slightly blurred from frost, but at least she felt warm again. Though, rather than warm, she recognised that what she felt was the absence of cold. Having experienced cold, she could tell that what she felt was different to that. The existence of the negative proved the positive. Looking in the pelts, she could see her husband was in them with her. She could see Dawn nearby giving her a knowing look, and Oak could only think ‘good job’ to herself. On the other side of the camp, she could see Lotus was talking to the queen from beneath the ice. She seemed to be entirely healthy, despite having been trapped underwater for who knows how long. She seemed to have dried herself off and her colour looked much healthier, though that in turn made her shapely body seem more animate and less like a statue, a mere object of art. If she were to introduce herself as a queen of some distant desert people, with her appearance, there would be few that would disbelieve it.

Looking at the two, the strange woman and Lotus, they looked oddly similar. Oak thought that they might even be relatives. The woman looked like a slightly older version of Lotus, maybe an older sister or mother; if that were the case than it was a strange coincidence. Of cause, she didn’t really know that much about Lotus, so it was entirely possible that she came to this desolate place deliberately to find her lost sister. The point that really sold her about them being related was their eyes. They both had such piercing green eyes, so fierce that they could be seen through frosted sight and across the fire; wild and untameable like a nature given form.

Listening to their conversation, or at least the end of it, it seemed that the woman’s name was Lucy, and she was some kind of merchant. Lotus also seemed to be very close to her also, physically speaking, so her relative theory might still be true. The details were hard to make out, but it seemed that Lucy wanted to make some kind of a discounted trade with Lotus as a way of saying thanks. From that, Oak was able to work out that it was Lotus that fished them out of the water. Noticing that, she could see that the fire wasn’t burning wood, but instead some kind of thick, blue-white vine that had been sliced into sections. Oak recognised the plant; it was the Heat-Seeking Ice Hunter. Lotus had them search for an hour at the border between the desert and ice lake for its seed, and she had seen just how hard Lotus had looked for them. It only grew in cold environments and it attacked creatures, killing them by trapping them in place and draining the heat from them. The border was one of the only places that seeds could be safely retrieved, as the desert heat kept them docile.

When Lotus eventually found one seed, she seemed like she had found the most valuable thing on earth. She rubbed it on her cheek and treated it like a child. Oak never would have expected Lotus to be willing to use such a valuable item to save them, though she was entirely thankful that she did. Maybe she would write them a bill for it later. Maybe she would march them back to the border and have them look for another one. Either way, she had a new-found fear of that plant. Having never experienced cold, a plant that could fill her with that sensation was the scariest thing she had ever seen, baring maybe the termites that she had seen eat someone slowly from the inside. It wasn’t just that it would kill her, plenty of things could do that, it was that cold itself, as an unfamiliar yet dangerous concept, filled her with dread. Knowing that her husband felt that feeling while in that place, maybe even to a greater extent, filled Oak with a sense of utter dependence. Despite that feeling, he had stuck by her. Despite the cold he hadn't run away and left the task to her.

She pulled him closer in her arms. Having experienced cold, she could understand his earlier concern for Dawn and Lotus. The jealousy she had felt was replaced by a pride in her Dima’s kindness. Holding him in her arms, she circulated her spirit throughout her body letting her essence warm him. She didn’t want him to have to feel cold ever again, more then she didn't want to feel it herself.

As Oak was lost in her own thoughts, Lotus and Lucy exchanged some parcels. Waving happily, Lucy left the camp and started a trip down the glacier.

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