(Author's note: This has been updated from the previous entry! I hope I resolved some 'review-pointed' issues, but if anyone spots anything wrong... I can't fix it unless you review!!)
(PS - PLEASE REVIEW!)
Tynsford, the Frozen North
My name is Jade. I never knew my last name. For all I know, I never had one. A lot of people these days don't — not real ones. All real family relations were lost centuries ago. Someone a few generations ago wanted to bring back the tradition and made up a name. From what we can tell, it's a tradition limited to our little town. Those who stumble here out of the cold don't seem to have a second name.
We're on maybe our third generation — only second, for some families — of second names, but I wouldn't know the joys in that. I don't have a family name and I don't have a family. Besides, I would still be Jade whether my last name was Whither or Toad or Spoon or Spit. Jade. Plain, old, boring Jade. I was practically an adjective.
Here in the sleepy town of Tynsford, most everyone has a last name. Children inherit their parents', but I have to wait until I'm twenty to be 'gifted' a name. I never had any parents and I'm still a fair way away from twenty. I guess I'm not in any rush, because I know it won't do me good.
I guess I would be about fifteen now, though maybe only thirteen or fourteen. We're not really sure when I was born. Other people know how old they are — we measure by how many 'Spring Thaws' someone's lived through — but no one's ever counted for me. I guess they expected my parents to. Unless you're trying to convince everyone that you're twenty so you can marry your sweetheart, anyway, age doesn't matter too much. It might in other parts of the world, but Tynsford doesn't bother itself.
Tynsford is a small, quiet little town whose inhabitants are descendants of the refugees of the Millennial War. No one speaks of the war. Sometimes people slip, of course, but those who don't know have learned to keep their mouth shut. It was too 'painful' a time, though none of the elders were alive back then. We, as children, used to imagine what it was all about, what life was like before and during the war, but that wore off quickly when we started fighting about it. The adults forbid us to ever bring up the topic again.
Despite their best attempts, evidence of the Millennial War was everywhere and those who remember were always reminded. After all was over, people found texts of what the world used to look like. It was round, or so they say. We're not sure what shape it is now. We've lost all communication with people on our own planet, let alone the ones outside of it. In fact, we haven't had communication outside of our little 'cave' in nearly three generations.
The town's physical being was a once-shelter for soldiers, dug into the side of a steep cliff called Towersdon. At the top, we knew there was a tower — from which Towersdon got its name — but the thaws never last long enough to investigate it. We have more important things to do when it's 'warm.'
Over a thousand years ago, something happened to the world that started the Millennial War. No one knows what it was because any human that survived is now long-since dead. Whatever it was, it changed everything. Ever since — or so we've been told — ice and snow have been the only things prevalent for what could possibly be thousands of miles in any direction. Possibly the whole world is nothing but ice. No one who leaves cares to risk the snow returning to tell us if they found something else out there.
It is in the remnants of this shelter that we have a large and thriving population of 120 people. Or, at least, we think we're large. We're not really sure. We could be rather small. Not many have ventured away from the town with the intent to never return. They know they'll die if they leave. They all die. Other people stumble in from time to time, most crippled with frostbite and dehydration, of which we can do little about, and either die or become part of our town. None of them have known anything but snow. We've learned to stop asking.
Being '15,' I was one of the oldest students who currently attended our small 'school.' Lumber was expensive and hard to come by (as well as dangerous to find, out in the snowstorm), so most of the town was made out of stone and public buildings were used for as many different purposes as they could hold. Most of us turned only to wood for fire, and only in our greatest of need or best of company. We had a small forest, but had to wait until the seeds had been dropped before we could cut the older for firewood. Only four trees a year were allowed now, yet still our forest supply still dwindled. Other times, we burned these little black rocks we found at the back of the cave. With a little oil, they lasted for hours. Smelled awful, though, so wood was preferred for any kind of company. Not that the stink ever left.
Our little school was made of stones with cloudy glass windows that cracked the first night they had been put in. The cold did that. School to us meant our parents got us out of the way — and for me, merely something to do. There was always someone available to come and present, but we'd heard them all so many times, we didn't really listen. Rock-working, glass-making, clothes-making, they repeated time after time. If someone was interested, they stayed after and talked with the master. Usually they got away with an internship. That's how jobs were decided for the rest of our lives. The younger ones changed their minds after every demonstration, but the older could hardly stand the small number of opportunities. Not that it mattered, there were only five of us in our age group, and there were none older that us that weren't already twenty and working.
Our life here was simple and our masters not very mastered. It was our legacy to be simple. We didn't have great scholars who studied books, we had men who bent metals into something useful, and women who made clothes to keep us warm. Our craftsmen and workers didn't make beautiful wooden sculptures and pristine pieces of art, they made shelves and chairs, windows and doors, and found ways to oil the black rocks to make them burn longer. We were simple, because anything more would let us die.
We knew that in the past, masters taught science, philosophy, mathematics, swordplay, and other great things, but the sciences are all as dead as the ones who knew them. Every once in a while, someone from the outside would get lost in the snowstorm and if we put them up, they would show off some kind of talent. An instrument to play, some strange new language or accent to speak with, and it delighted us. Then the presenter would never want to return to the snowstorm and stayed to strain our resources further, but we could turn none away.
Since there weren't many who came to Tynsford — especially on purpose — we all knew the presentations backwards and forward. For today, however, word had spread of a newcomer. He had presented for the adults last night at Mrs. Wither's house (as she had wood to burn which didn't smell so bad) and his act astounded them all. The excitement had passed on to the children and school was buzzing.
Today, we were going to be shown magic.
It was said that the great upheaval — the 'code name' for what started the Millennial War — gave the people of certain lands powers to do great things, inhuman things. Fly, create things from thin air, read minds… They were a special race. As time went on, their blood was mingled with that of the immigrants so that the bloodline became thinner and thinner. The Millennial War was said to have lasted a thousand years, and by the time it ended, the bloodline had all but ceased to exist. All a load of muck, if you ask me. People tried to convince others that magic really existed by passing of stage tricks as 'real' magic. That was good enough for smaller children, who were easily appeased, but not for me. Not even real magic could appease me.
I made my way slowly to school. The idea of a fake magic presentation didn't appeal to the older as much as the younger, though anything new was better than something old. A 'magician' had made his way through once. It was great at first, but after three weeks, we knew his tricks and were bored of it. Now he's the local pig-farmer. This new man may become just as much.
My two best friends walked beside me, Micheel and Tock. Tock was a heavy boy. It was embarrassing to say that he was heavier than me. Lucky dog. Wish I had the extra insulation, but I didn't get to eat as often as his family did so I stayed thin. Micheel, on the other hand, was a beautiful girl. 190 and gaining. She was pushy, bossy, and was fully prepared to take up her mother's job of being a mother of twelve when she found a sweetheart. The problem was, if you weren't in love by the time you were fifteen, you just weren't going to find somebody. There weren't enough people here.
In Tynsford, weight was crucial. It stopped you from freezing to death — something I constantly struggled with. And without money to afford more clothes, what was I to do? When my parents died, they left me a small stash of cherry wood coins. Most of that went to firewood. Now I can't afford that and I have to find my own black rocks, searching the back of the cave for them.
Micheel and Tock were both anxious to see the new presentation. They jabbered and babbled the whole way about how amazing it would be, but I knew they were just going to get some laughs and something new to joke about later. Maybe he would fall on his face and light himself on fire.
On our way to school, we passed the opening of the cave of Tynsford. It was naturally — or, perhaps, unnaturally — shielded with a zigzag to stop the cold air from coming in, but if you hit just the right spot, you could still see outside. Get awful cold from it, too, so people avoided that spot.
Once, people think this whole cave was under the surface of an ocean — a great body of water. I couldn't imagine what an ocean would be like, or even just flowing water. Any liquid around here is frozen or, at the very least, slushy. We shaved them with metal prongs to eat if they were edible and threw them out with the ashes if they weren't.
Just opposite the cave entrance, the only thing further from the entrance than my house, was a tall, crumbling building. A book we found said it was called a 'lighthouse.' What people would do with a light under the water was beyond me. As we passed it, I could have sworn I saw a shadow flicker in the upstairs as if someone were hiding there. Normally you could see the light through the top — where it was made of cracked glass — but for a moment, I couldn't.
"What's wrong, Jade?" Micheel asked.
"Uh-oh, Tock, she's dreaming of her Nightmare Man again," she laughed. Tock stifled his laugh, but only because he knew I would hurt him. "Where is he this time? Behind the tree? Under the bush? Or— oh, he's in the lighthouse again, isn't he? Ooooh."
"Shut your mouth, Micheel," I snapped, but no one ordered Micheel around. She would keep nagging whether she wanted to anymore, or not.
The Nightmare Man. That's what they called my reoccurring 'flickering shadow'. The town doctor insisted it was normal for people to see things that aren't there, especially when they're dehydrated, and sent me home with some ice to eat. I ate it, but I knew the sights were different than all that.
I'd had a dream a few year back that I met a man to be my sweetheart, and every time I saw the shadow flicker, they said it was him lying in wait. They tried to convince me he was this gorgeous man who had been captivated by my jutting ribs, my bony shoulders, my thin neck, but he was too shy to tell me that he loved me so he stalked me around town instead. Their teasing only depressed me, because I knew that's what I did want, and knew it would never happen. I was never beautiful — I was thin, I was poor, I had no parents, my fingers were blue because I couldn't afford mittens, but worst of all was my hair. Bright yellow! It was horrible. Oh, how I longed for the beautiful black that everyone else had!
I held my nose up as proudly as I could without a breeze coming down my neck. "I wasn't thinking of him," I snapped.
"Sure you weren't. C'mon, Micheel, let's leave Jade alone with her shadow," Tock laughed.
I grabbed a handful of snow and got him in the face. Micheel laughed until she got one, too. They chased me with snowballs until Mrs. Wither complained about us and sent us to school.
We were still miles from the building, but made it before it started. Strange. They usually started a long time ago, but the presenter wanted 'everyone' to be there before he would begin. We were scolded for coming so slow by the adults who wanted to see it. Mrs. Withers was the last to come, and she gave me a box on the ear as if I had been later than she.
The man stepped out onto the stage in strange clothes. Micheel and Tock laughed, but I liked the clothes, the design, the colors. They made me think of warm things, lots of strong reds and oranges and shimmering yellows. He wore a clean white shirt with a yellow stitch at the top, long red robes, and darkened skin. It wasn't very dark, but we had never seen someone with another color skin tone before, so it was strange. His eyes were what got me. Bright, beautiful green! I, myself, had green eyes — yet another thing I hated about myself — but his were so much more dazzling against his brown hair. I knew then that if I had been born with dark hair, maybe someone would have wanted to take me in instead of leaving me in the cold.
His eyes scanned the crowd as if he were looking for someone. They came right to me, naturally, as I stuck out like a sore thumb. My hair always seemed to do that. He smiled at me and I felt the pity in it.
"Good morning, all," he called. He had an accent. I'd seen it happen before — it would be gone in a fortnight. I wished he wouldn't lose it, though. I liked this one. "Chilly this morning, isn't it?" he shivered, rubbing his arms. No one responded. Most stared blankly, but that didn't throw him off. "What do you say we warm it up in here? I'm sure you're tired of wearing those jackets everywhere you go."
He clapped his hands once, as if going to rub them together, and pulled them apart slowly. Between them, a small red flame sat, as if he held an invisible burning twig. The whole crowd gasped in awe. Fire without wood, without the black rocks? No wonder the adults had been impressed.
He flung the flame up into the air. It lengthened into a long stream and circled the top of the building. It made it so warm, we wanted to take our coats off. He untied his robes and stepped out of them, wearing more strange clothes below them. "Ah, much better. Now, where was I? Oh, yes! My name is Kardnal, and I am a mage."
He made creatures of flames and passed out fireballs to everyone to keep our hands warm while he presented. There was no invisible stick, just a fluttering flame in our palms. The few of us able to not pay attention spent their time trying to figure out how it worked. With the thumping little flame in my hand, like a heartbeat, I felt the strongest warmth I had in ages. For the first time in as long as I could remember, my fingers weren't blue. The circulation made them hurt, though, so I wasn't sure it was worth it.
Kardnal wasn't an old man there to get some laughs, but he wasn't a dolt who didn't know what he was doing, either. If he made a mistake, we laughed because he made it funny. Then he would smile and say, "Better try that one again," and he would always get it right the second time.
But like all good things, it ended, and we were sent back out into the cold. I kept my little fireball safe from the cold wind in my hands, but it burned itself out and my fingers were left cold in the end.
(Author's note: Once again, please review on what you think! "It's great," "It's crap," whatever! I just want to hear what the reader's think!)