The Frozen Wasteland, Tales of the Feisty Druid Book Three
By Candy Crum and Michael Anderle
Arryn used her feet to kick snow in all directions as she excavated toward the bare ground below. Over the past couple days, she'd slowly been clearing a large area and putting the displaced snow to good use. She'd been lucky that a true snowstorm hadn't hit yet, but from the looks of the clouds in the distance and the smell in the air, she could tell it wasn't going to be long.
Every day it snowed a little at different times, and she’d had to clear the area over and over again. Had it not been for her weakness, the task wouldn't have been much of a problem at all. In fact, the shelter would've been complete long before now.
So far, she’d cleared a circle that was ten feet in diameter, and the walls surrounding it were more than a foot thick and three feet high. While she didn't plan to stay in the mountains long, it was obvious she would need shelter until she departed.
She couldn't waste any more time and energy moving up and down the mountain searching for a cave when she had no idea if one even existed, and she definitely didn’t have the strength to waste on using her magic to search through the ground for openings.
Instead, she stacked the snow high in the hope that it would block the wind. Once she had some of her energy back, she planned to stack it just a bit higher, turn it into solid ice, and build across so it had a roof as well.
While living inside an ice cube certainly wouldn’t be warm, it would be a hell of a lot better than constantly being hit in the face by cold wind and snow.
Once the ground had been cleared of snow—again—Arryn sat down inside her shelter, using the walls to block the wind from blowing against the sweat on her face. She used the edge of her cloak to wipe it away, making sure her face was well hidden so the cold wouldn't freeze it before it could dry.
Arryn felt something brush against her ankle, and she pulled her cloak back just enough to see her little snow rabbit friend nestling next to her.
“Well, hello there, Sir Fuzzy Bottom.” She reached out and scratched his head in his favorite spot between his ears. “You know, I really need to settle on a name for you. I'm terrible with traditional ones. I like smartass names better. But you know what they say… you get attached once you name something. I assume that mostly goes for serious names, though. I don't know how long I'll be here, so I don't want to get any more attached to you than I already am.”
She sighed as she stared at the dreary sky. “I'm exhausted,” she told him. “If I don't find a way to regain enough energy, I'll be stuck up here indefinitely. For every step forward I take, it seems like I go back two. But my little igloo should help with that. Time to rest up and gain my strength.”
The rabbit sat on her lap, staring at her with his little nose bobbing up and down. She smiled at him and pulled him closer, enjoying the warmth he radiated.
“If I had about twenty more of you, I wouldn't even need to build a fire.”
Arryn suddenly remembered the snow leopard pelt hanging over her fire, which she had repeatedly scraped, treated, and dried, curing it so it could be used as bedding. She gently placed rabbit on the ground next to her before standing and making her way around to the eastern side of the peak.
It wasn’t far away, and the tall rocks blocked the wind better than the area she had built in, but the terrain on the other side was far too rocky to make camp on. It would be very hard to make any part of the mountain completely habitable. What one area had, another didn't, and vice versa.
Thankfully, she’d been able to build a fire and cure both the pelt and some of the meat to make jerky she could use over time without it going bad.
When she’d grabbed the pelt, she could feel that it was once again dry. After looking it over for a few moments, she was happy to see that it did not need to be scraped another time; the hide had turned soft and durable. It would be perfect to lay beneath her, making a nice barrier between her and the ground below.
She went back to her camp and laid the pelt on the ground inside her partial igloo. Once she had sat down on it, the rabbit once again returned to sit in her lap.
“Well, Mr. Fluffinstuffs, it's not perfect, but it's pretty good. A few days ago, I made a big threat to one hell of a psycho bitch. I know you wouldn't know anything about that, but being stuck up here after having made an incredibly big threat is basically the equivalent of making the best argument you ever made in your life, storming out of the room, and having to go back in because you forgot your pack. Totally kills your groove.”
She looked down to see the little rabbit's eyes locked on hers as she spoke, which made her smile as she scratched the sides of his face. “I guess the equivalent for you would be threatening to fight another bunny for the rights to a cute little girl bunny, only to find out that she didn't like you anyway. Actually, that's nowhere near close, but since I don't know anything about your day-to-day life, I have no idea how to relate my situation to yours.”
Arryn wasn't entirely sure, but it looked like the rabbit shook his head at her. She laughed, unable to say that she could blame him.
In the days since the attack, Maddie hadn’t run into Arryn anywhere in the city. She hadn't taught her courses, and she hadn't attended the physical magic class, not that she was surprised.
The rumor mill was in full swing, and from what Maddie could tell, things had gotten far worse. It wasn't casual chatter any longer; the people had become certain of Arryn's guilt. Students, parents, and teachers alike had begun to think Arryn had killed the students.
Not seeing Arryn at the Academy wasn't nearly as strange to her as not seeing her anywhere in the city after the battle with the remnant. She’d fought bravely, but no one saw where she went. There wasn’t a body. It was as if she’d vanished into thin air, and Maddie wasn’t entirely sure she hadn’t—but not by choice. Someone was working awfully hard to frame the newcomer.
No matter how everyone felt about Arryn's guilt, they all seemed to agree she'd behaved heroically on the wall. So, where had she gone?
Why was no one asking where she was?
None of the faculty.
None of her fellow students.
Maddie had attempted to ask a few people herself, but was surprised to find they didn't care at all. For a city as cautious as Arcadia had become, not caring where Arryn had gone seemed strange, since she was a suspected murderer.
Arryn had been accused of killing several students since she’d arrived in the city. The majority of them had been Boulevard students, which didn’t make sense to Maddie since Arryn’s parents had been killed while trying to save those from the Boulevard.
Maddie needed some answers.
Having spent several days feeling like she was the only one holding a torch while walking through fog, she decided it was time to talk to Amelia. She could only hope Amelia would have some real answers for her, rather than having fallen into the same pit as the rest of the city.
Maddie had waited until after sundown, when the city had quieted down and the Guard was on patrol, before she went to see Amelia. While she couldn't explain the root of her feelings, she was concerned about the possibility that someone would see her, prompting her not only to wait until after dark, but to use less traveled streets to avoid being noticed.
Since Maddie had grown up as a noble, sneaking around the streets wasn’t something she had much practice with. But luckily for her, she was a quick study, and she had learned a lot from her time with the Bitch of the Boulevard.
As she approached Amelia's house, she realized that remaining unseen would be an impossibility. Upon closer examination, she saw that there was a guard stationed in the Chancellor's backyard, though he seemed to be trying to conceal himself, too.
As she approached the house, she wondered why he would take a position there instead of in front of the house. She was thinking hard, and she didn’t pay attention to her footing.
There was a broken stone in her path, which crunched under her foot and alerted the guard. Her entire body stiffened as she watched him quickly jump into action, pointing his magitech rifle outward, although not directly at her.
He stayed against the side of Amelia's house as he made his way over to her, careful not to step out of the shadows, and Maddie watched as he carefully stuck his head past the corner far enough to look down each side of the street before pulling back.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” the guard asked when he reached her. His voice was hushed, as if he didn't want anyone to hear him talking.
Maddie copied his quiet tone, not only wanting to keep him calm, but not wanting anyone with prying ears to hear her speak. “I need to speak with Amelia.”
He raised the magitech rifle slightly, though it was still angled enough that it wasn't pointed directly at her. “What do you want with the Chancellor?”
Maddie looked up and down the street, knowing that if even a single person heard them, they would investigate and see her standing there. She placed both hands in the air before slowly putting them in her pockets, hoping to signal that she had no plans to use magic against him.
“It's very important. I'm a friend of hers. Please tell her Maddie is here to see her, but hurry. You were hiding in the shadows, so I'm assuming you do not want to be seen. Well, neither do I.”
The guard hesitated for a moment before finally lowering his rifle. “Wait right here.”
He was gone for several moments, disappearing into the backyard again, and then he returned. With a wave of his hand, he motioned for Maddie to follow him around back of the house.
Amelia was standing in the back door, waiting for them. Her body seemed rigid as she stood in the frame, leaning against it with her arms folded across her chest.
“Don’t come any closer,” Amelia warned. “I'm going ask you a question and look into your mind while you answer. Understand?”
Maddie wasn't entirely certain if the woman had lost her wits and become incredibly paranoid, or if her suspicions had been correct and this was the Chancellor's way of taking precautions. Instead of asking her own questions, Maddie nodded.
“If you were anyone else, I wouldn't even give you the courtesy, but here it is. Arryn has been accused of killing several students. She's also been accused of killing two people while subduing a third in front of the Capitol building. She was seen firing on the Capitol building using her magic. And she seems to be missing now. What do you think about all that? What should I do about all that?”
The questions were strange, sure, but Maddie was certain Amelia knew what she was doing. She was nothing if not thorough and cautious.
“I came here because she's been missing for a few days and I have no idea where she is. I think the entire city has turned on her like starving dogs in a chicken coop, and I don't understand why. I understand those charges, but I seem to be one of the very few who think logic isn't really taking a part here.”
Amelia nodded. “What exactly do you mean logic isn’t a playing part?”
“I don't know her. I was in her class for a couple of days, and I spoke to her once. That's it. But I do know is that she woke up every morning and trained our Guard. From what I hear, and not from her, she trained them harder than they've ever been trained before by our own men. Why would she do that if she knew those same skills could be immediately turned against her to take her down? Why would she try to teach her students to heal, knowing any damage she did to them could be healed by themselves or by another student?”
Maddie paused for a moment, but Amelia stood there, weighing her words. Maddie continued. “There's more, but those are the basics. None of this makes sense. It's like everyone is convinced of her guilt and has mysteriously forgotten all the good she has done. Sure, some of the noble girls like to chat and gossip. But it’s happened with everyone, including full-grown men. Something's not right. That's why I'm here.”
A few moments passed before Amelia's body relaxed and she stood up straight again, a smile spreading across her lips. “Maddie, I’m so glad it’s really you. Please come in.”
Maddie walked across the back porch and stepped inside, taking one last look at the guard outside. He gave her a nod before returning to his post in the yard. She closed the door and went into the kitchen.
“It's nice to see you, too, Amelia,” Maddie said. “I didn't know what else to do. I was worried when she confronted the class about the accusations against her, and since the invasion, no one has seen or heard from her. The invasion was the last time, but no one really spoke to her. She fought for us and then disappeared.”
Amelia nodded, grabbing the kettle to boil some water over a fire. “Would you like some tea before we get started?”
Maddie gave her a nervous smile before sitting down at the table. “Sure. Thank you, I'd love some.”
Walking around the kitchen and working as she spoke, Amelia began. “There's a lot to the story. It's a long one, so I’m glad you decided on tea—you're probably going to need it to stay awake. You know about the accusations, but you don't know about everything leading up to them.”
Amelia began to tell Maddie everything about Arryn’s situation, starting with the moment she arrived. She told her about her past, her parents, the Dark Forest, coming back to Arcadia after she learned Adrien had been killed. She told her everything, all the way up to when she began teaching and came to Amelia with her fears about Talia.
She set a cup of tea in front of Maddie, along with the bowl of sugar cubes. After sitting down with her own cup, she dropped in two cubes and continued with her story.
“If I'd listened to her, we wouldn’t be in this position right now. Well, it wouldn't be quite as bad, anyway. The reason we’re here is because I didn't know any of this before Scarlett arrived. By the time the mystic got here, Talia had already established herself as quite the little hero of the city. Scarlett only solidified that perception by using her magic. They also have control of the remnant. This is one hell of a mess, and another mess is that Arryn is missing. I feel stuck.”
Maddie took a careful sip of her tea before setting it back down. “Do we have any idea where she is?”
Amelia shook her head. “Cathillian sent Echo, his familiar, south. She searched pretty much all land south of us for any sign of Arryn, which means Talia more than likely took her north, or out of the Valley entirely. I'm not surprised—Talia was from just outside of Cella, or at least that's what I was told. She could be from another planet, for all I know. But for sake of argument, if north truly is where she's from, it doesn't surprise me that she would head in that direction.”
Maddie chewed on her lip for a moment, staring at the table as she thought everything over. “But she knows you know that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don't mean to poke a hole in your theory, but why would she go north? If she's from just outside Cella, and we're going to go out on a limb here and say that maybe she really is, why would she return there? Yes, it makes sense that she would return to what's familiar. People she can trust. Terrain she knows. But she would also know we would assume that. Talia is here. Arryn isn't. That means Arryn was dumped somewhere. Or…” Maddie let her words trail off as a concerned expression across her face. “Or the worst has happened.”
Amelia sighed as she sat there in silence. “It's very true. Talia definitely didn't take her south. But she would know we are aware she's from there. Okay, I'm open to suggestions.”
Maddie shook her head, raising her hands into the air for a moment before lowering them. “I don't have a clue. If she's not in the south, it would make sense that she was in the north. The only thing hanging me up about it is that Talia would know we would think of it. Which means she’s done something far worse. They wouldn’t have taken her west, because she'd be too close to the Dark Forest. If she has control of the remnant like you say, I suppose she could have taken her to them.”
Amelia nodded. “True, but I don’t think so. They wouldn’t have taken her east, because the remnant could've destroyed her by now, and there's no way in hell Talia would allow that. She'd want to destroy her herself. That’s why she more than likely wouldn’t entrust anyone to keep her either. They’d either set her free or torture her themselves.”
Maddie grimaced as she considered her next words. “Common sense has narrowed down the direction, and judging by personality alone, we’ve determined Talia would not leave her in the care of anyone else. But—Talia is here. She was at the Academy today. That means one of two things: either Arryn is already dead, or Talia has her hidden somewhere. Alone. Not under anyone else's care.”
It was Amelia’s turn to grimace now. “Somewhere she can torture her. But that doesn't make sense. Talia was gone for about five days. Maybe she's already tortured Arryn to death. That's a very long time. I don't have very many guards I can trust, but none of them saw Scarlett or Talia during those five days. No one saw any movement at either of their homes, either. That means they went somewhere away from here. Outside the city. Definitely north.”
Maddie took another sip of her tea before setting it down again. “Actually, there were several teachers and students missing for those five days, Jackson among them. They must have teleported outside the city.”
Amelia smacked the edge of the table before pointing at Maddie with a smile on her face. “I got it. I need you to be my eyes and ears inside of the Academy. I can’t go in there. I have to be absolutely perfect. With Scarlett in control of everything, I have to be very careful. I can’t piss off Talia or Scarlett. If I do, the whole city will revolt against me. There would probably not be a corner in the city I could hide in. So, I need you to study everything. Follow Jackson. Do whatever you can, but don't get caught. Don't get caught, and don't let anyone know you're associated with me in any way. You were smart to come here tonight when the city was quiet.”
“If things are that bad here for you, why don't you leave? No one would blame you for that. If your life is that in danger, you shouldn't be here. You're more valuable alive than dead. The city needs you. Arryn needs you.”
Amelia gave a sad smile. “You have no idea how badly I would love to run. After all this fighting, I'm exhausted. But I can't. I took a vow when I stepped into the role of Chancellor. I made a promise to Ezekiel that I would care for his city—that I would make it a better place. I’d fulfill his dream. That I would let no one harm our people. That their children— everyone's children—would be well educated and could learn magic if they chose to do so.
“If I run, Talia will rise up. She will claim my seat, and she will have power over the Guard. The only thing stopping her from doing it now is the fact that Scarlett has a very thin hold on everyone. From what I can tell, she compelled several people, and she's using them to convince others of her truth about what's happening.”
“She doesn’t have active control over every person in the city, right?” Maddie asked.
Shaking her head, Amelia said, “From what Julianne has told me about mental magic, that would be impossible—even for the most powerful mystics. In reality, Scarlett must be exhausted. She only has control over a handful of people. In fact, if I were her, I would choose several strong-willed people who are known for rational thinking. I would choose them because they’re the type of people everyone would believe. They're the ones who are calm in any situation. Dependable. If they say the sky is falling, you’d damn well better take shelter. The rest are weak-minded individuals who will believe anything they're told, especially those who like to spread gossip—and like to believe it even more. That would be the easiest path to take. It would demand far less magic.”
Maddie nodded. “I don't know Arryn very well. I don't know anything about her other than what you’ve told me and what I've seen in class. What I do know is that she's strong. I don't know where she is or if she's alive, but something tells me someone that cruel wouldn't have killed her right away. I think Arryn is still alive, and I think she's working on a way to get herself home.”
Amelia laughed as she played with the handle on her teacup. “You'd like her. She's tough, not unlike someone else we know.”
“If she's anything like Hannah, then I definitely believe she's working on a way to get back to Arcadia. I also know if we put our efforts into finding her rather than saving the city, Talia and Scarlett won't be the only ones needing to save their asses.” Maddie smiled. “Keep that in mind. She will be back, and she'll kick our butts if we haven’t made any progress. I'll do what you suggested. I’ll work on Jackson and the others. I'm very tiny and quiet, so I'm sure I can sneak around and get some information. In the meantime, keep yourself safe and away from any unnecessary attention. If I can't talk to you directly, how will I update you?”
Amelia shook her head. “I'm gonna have to talk to Cathillian about that. I don't know nature magic, and even if I did, the bond between familiar and master is difficult to seal. Even Arryn doesn't have a familiar. But maybe Cathillian can train a bird to deliver messages for us.”
Maddie’s eyes widened. “That could be fun and interesting.”
Amelia nodded and replied, “I'll work on that, you work on the Academy. And for the love of the Matriarch, if anyone corners you about Arryn, act like you buy into the rumors. You can't believe you trusted her when she turned out to be a murderous psychopath. Understand?”
Maddie felt disgusted just thinking about playing such a game, but she also understood it was necessary. Not only for her own survival, but also Amelia's.