The frigid cold of the blizzard caused the fire to sputter and die long before the sun rose. Mara and Meeki huddled together for warmth, the bear’s snores echoing off the towers stone walls. Koda’s Breath’s double coat warded away most of the cold. The ceiling of the tower was open slightly, and the snow from the blizzard fell lazily down onto the stone slab floor.
In the dim light of the dawn Koda’s Breath stirred. He peered out into the dimly lit area, and froze.
They were not alone. Mara still slept, and Meeki’s snores confirmed the soft paw-prints in the snow were not his.
Koda’s Breath turned his head slowly, scanning the room. The tinderbox was left open near the fire, and the boxes near the door were in the same position. He saw nothing out of the ordinary. Feeling foolish, he settled back down into his straw bed. Meeki probably woke up in the night to urinate. He had nothing to worry about.
Koda’s Breath lay down, and felt cold breath against his face. His eyes snapped open and he found himself staring up into the jowls of an Icebrood Wolf. The creature seemed to smile before it released a wailing howl.
Mara and Meeki were startled into action, the norn woman quick to draw her bow and aim at the creature. Meeki leapt at the beast but it dodged, and leapt again at Koda’s Breath. It knocked him down, whole body strewn across his chest. He felt the cold weight against his chest and gasped for air, and when none came, slipped into blackness.
To the average onlooker, the view from the highest balcony was astonishing. The wooden architecture instilled solemnity, and told of hours of meditation, training and self-restraint. The red flags of the kodan peoples fluttered in the breeze and provided the only proof that time was not standing totally still. The shining ice glittered around them, polished to the pure brilliance of the rising sun.
Below them, rows upon rows of Beserkers, Stormcallers, Shieldbearers, Icehammers and Bell-ringers stood at attention, their focus drawn on the tall kodan form beside him. Serene Wrath spoke normally but his voice echoed across the Spear Of The Sea, amplified by his power. He was lit softly by sunrise’s first touch, and looked as powerful as he was handsome. He spoke of preparation, fortitude, and togetherness. Balance, he said, was the key to their survival.
Today would be their first assault. The Voice had meditated, called upon Koda and sought his answer in the mists. Today would be their auspicious day. Today, they moved against Jormag.
Serene Wrath stepped down from the dais and turned to Dawn Rising.
“They are ready. We are all ready. Now we can only hope the Memory Shards will protect us”.
“They will, Wrath. Your power is strong, and Koda guided me to find this solution. It is the will of Koda”
“You’re speaking like a Voice again” . Serene Wrath smiled, unreservedly. It was something he only ever did with Dawn Rising.
They made their way to the inner sanctum. Dawn Rising motioned with his paw and his attendants left.
“Most of my day I am the Voice. With you, I can be myself.” Dawn Rising embraced Serene Wrath. He felt a light kiss on his forehead.
“You are always both. You are a good Voice, Dawn. You need to stop doubting yourself. Come now, put on your armour. We have a dragon to kill.”
Dawn Rising and Serene Wrath changed from their ceremonial garbs into their functional war armour. Dawn Rising changed out of his long red robes into plate armour, the metal hammered into many facets to encourage arrows deflecting off it. Unlike other kodan, much of his fur was dyed in geometric patterns and claw marks, signifying his esteemed place in society. Serene Wrath unbuckled his heavy iron armour. Serene Wrath was tall, even for kodan, and his head nearly brushed the wooden roof of the inner sanctum. Unlike Dawn Rising, Serene Warth’s fur was stark white. He changed into neat silk robes of deep crimson and grey.
Serene Wrath had been chosen as Claw when the Spear Of The Sea had been released from it’s mountaintop drydock. Built from the coldest mountain ice the Spear Of The Sea caused an earthquake when it smashed down the mountainside and into Drakkar’s Lake. The Council of Claws, a loose group of the most powerful sanctuaries’ leaders held a contest to choose the new sanctuary’s Claw and Voice. Serene Wrath and Dawn Rising had been unlikely entries, as traditionally Claws were not mesmers, and Voices were not guardians. Serene Wrath proved himself a worthy administrator, fighter and leader. Dawn Rising had most closely connected with Koda and provided the council with accurate answers to the questions they posed. He had also shown no sign of the madness that afflicted some Voices, known as the Rage of Koda when he was required to connect with the mists many times in fast succession.
Two years later, they were to lead their first assault on Jormag’s champion, Drakkar. Since their launch, their aim had been purely defensive, until from the mists a message wormed its way into Dawn Risings meditation. An idea at first, when he shared it with Serene Wrath the concept came into fruition, and the first Memory Shard was created.
A shard of consecrated ice, the Memory Shards housed within them the full consciousness of its bearer. Within the smooth frozen water were all the memories, thoughts and feelings of the individual. It was, however, only by chance they discovered that it protected from Jormag’s corruption. During one of many sieges, Serene Wrath had been overcome by a lesser champion of Jormag, and the beast attempted to corrupt him, to no avail. While the creature was stunned, Dawn Rising managed to slay it. Upon this discovery, they begun to hatch a plan.
Now, each and every soldier in the army was fitted with a Memory Shard, and they could finally launch an attack on the frost dragon.
Serene Wrath and Dawn Rising made their way to the front bridge, and Serene Wrath gave the order to have the sanctuary sail towards the Icebrood line of defence. The whole sancturay stood on guard as, in the first light of dawn, the sanctuary breached the ice walls of Drakkar’s stronghold. The drawbriges were lowered, and the first wave of kodan fighters were deployed.
Kodan fighting squads never differed. Two stormcallers, two shieldbearers, two beserkers, one Icehammer and one Bell-ringer. Together, they worked with deadly effect. Immune to corruption, they carved through the Icebrood hoards like deadly knives. The kodan that fell stayed down, their bodies not claimed by the dragon. The shieldbearers took the front, smashing the enemies ahead of them. Beserkers used their axes to cut down enemies before the shieldbearers, while stormcallers rained ice down around them. The icehammers protected the bell-ringers, whose deadly music dazed the enemies so long as they remained in the same place.
Legions of Icebrood fell before Drakkar emerged from the fortress of corrupted Ice. His form cast a great shadow over the battlefield and he screamed his protest when he discovered the bodies of the fallen kodan had not risen to his aid.
Dawn Rising and Serene Wrath climbed into the catapults that they had devised for this very moment. Twenty four catapults had been built, and with a motion, the small party of kodan were soaring through the air one by one in a line towards their enemy. Mid-air, Serene Wrath formed a portal in front of the line of flying kodan. They soared through the purple ring and found themselves directly in front of the furious dragon champion.
“Today is your last day Drakkar!” Serene Wrath bellowed.
The squads formed up, Serene Wrath at the very front. Drakkar’s claws came down, seemingly to crush the Spear’s Claw but with the sound of breaking glass his form was no longer there. Suddenly, five Serene Wraths appeared, and hurled themselves at the dragon, a frenzy of blurred sceptres and swords.
Dawn Rising stood firm, providing protection to the squads by reflecting and absorbing the shards of ice thrown by the nearby Icebrood.
It was then that everything went wrong. Drakkar leapt into the sky and breathed a wave of corrupting essence. He barely missed Dawn Rising, but the battlefield was suddenly awash with corrupted kodan. Dawn Rising spun in horror, searching for Serene Wrath. Far away, he saw his beloved, his left foot beginning to ice over.
A rage like never before washed over him, and he smashed through the icebrood and uncorrpted kodan alike to get to Serene Wrath’s side. By the time he got there, most of his leg had been corrupted, and tears were streaming down his face.
“Dawn… I can’t go on. Please!” His words came out half formed, blabbering though tears and agonising whimpers.
“Wrath, I—There is nothing—What can I do?” Dawn Rising asked through his own tears.
“I can survive. Take my Shard. Reunite it with my body, it might reverse the process!” Serene Wraths lower body was now entirely corrupted. He pulled the necklace off and offered it to Dawn Rising. “Keep me safe, and do not communicate with me. One body cannot contain two minds.” He thrust the necklace into Dawn Rising’s paw.
“Wrath please! Don’t leave me!”
“See you soon, my love. Be swift, like the winds of Koda. Like Koda’s Breath.”
“ I love you Wrath”
“I love—” Serene Wrath had been fully corrupted, and Dawn Rising turned and fled.
He ran to the water’s edge, and called upon his powers to create a boat of ice. He clambered inside and sent it sailing away form the battlefield. He felt, in that moment as if he had failed everything. He had lead them to certain death. He had lost his dearest love to corruption. And now, he was abandoning those left behind.
“For love, I will sacrifice anything. I will save you, Serene Wrath.” He whispered into the Shard. “For you, I will be Koda’s Breath”.
Koda’s Breath awakened to yelling. He struggled to sit up, but found his hands bound and tied.
“So the monster is awake?” a norn smirked at him through the iron cage in which he now sat. “Have a nice sleep after you were finished butchering poor Mara were you?”
“What?” Koda’s Breath shook the lethargy from his head.
“Yeah, we found you, fast asleep next to her cold corpse. The poor bear and an Icebrood wolf too. She managed to let us know it was you though. Wrote ‘Save me’ on the wall in her own blood she did.”
Koda’s Breath reeled from shock. From the bars on his cage he could see the wagon next to him, covered in a blood-soaked sheet. Mara was dead, and Meeki with her. He choked, and vomited onto the floor of the cage.
Did I do it?