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Icy Heart

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The temple was cold.

Incredibly cold.

Ah, zottobo. It was such an extremely random and even nonsensical comment coming from a proud icy like him. Surely coming up with a statement like that after hours of ignoring Riff’s whining about how ‘icies couldn’t even afford to turn up the heat’ might had sounded a little hypocritical too. It didn’t even make quite sense, considering that although the masterfully crafted building he was in, that showed the regal resemblance of the first Queen of the Ice Realm at the entrance, was just as covered in frost as the rest of his homeland, the inside was supposed to feel less numbing. The furthest thing from being hot, but still not completely frozen.

It took him one, single look at the corridor leading to the main hall for an uncharacteristic shiver to make its way up his spine. The place was perfectly symmetrical. He had been there again and again, every single year, yet the thought was always the same and with that the feeling of uneasiness.

Like he was stepping foot into a sacred place he wasn’t worthy off.

Ikor closed his eyes for a second, holding onto the bag he had brought along. You did this before, you will do it again. He nodded, pretending to believe in himself for once, and marched forward. The ceiling was high already, looking like the ballroom of the Ice Castle, yet the main hall was another thing altogether. If it was considered massive for an adult gormian, a mini-Herald like him felt like absolutely nothing in comparison. The red arc welcomed him as always, resembling the ones scattered all over the realm. The floor was made of ice, covered in big snowflake drawings engraved all over. Every single step echoed gradually through the structure, amplified by the massive walls around him. He was convinced that if he took the time and listened, he could have heard the steps he had made the year prior.

There were light crystals at every corner, lightening the way forward with green and azure sparkles. The ceiling was above everything, embracing a world of memories and glories. All of it was the home of the most characteristic part of the First Temple: the statues of the ancestors.

Massive, gigantic, and extremely realistic representations of the rulers and heroes of the past. Icies would have not given glory to their name if they hadn’t been absolute masters at sculpturing the freezing material. It was uncanny, how detailed and life-like those figures were, which only showed how much the Ice Tribe felt the need to represent their greatness. If gormians had made something meaningful in their lives, then they were all resting here. There were explorers, warriors, studies, rulers, kings, queens

The temple was cold.

Incredibly, unbelievably cold.

History class came in handy right now. It was a labyrinth in a way, that went deep into the history of the realm: the statues were grouped depending on the era they belonged too. An unaware outsider could had gotten completely lost in here, with the multi-layered structure that went so far into the past the deeper it was. Only a true icy could had moved forward, he was the right person. Then again, he barely had to command his feet anymore. There was a specific line of statues awaiting, all wearing symmetrical, grand but light clothes, not unlike the one he was wearing right now. He didn’t even have to move deeper into the temple, it was the most recent time after all.

Adding to that, he had the feeling even someone not too keen on history would had been able to look for the memorial he was after, as long as they knew how Ikor was. When the scepter came into view, like every single time, an unpleasant weight made him stop for half a second.

Ikor closed his eyes again. Like every time. Move forward. Like every time.

He did, forcing his feet, his eyes unable to look elsewhere.

Like with the other statues, this manufacture was perfect. Even unnecessary impeccable. She was holding an open book with one hand, and a scepter with a green stone at the top with the other, the only two items that weren’t made out of ice. Her hair was braided into a complex hairstyle that made her look taller, showcasing the mighty crown of the Realm of Ice in the middle. She was wearing one elegant dress with wide sleeves and snowflakes drawn onto the cloth, carved to perfection over the statue like they had been truly sewed.

It was uncanny. The shape of the chin and the nose, refined and proud. The quirky eyebrows, the ones of those that thought they knew better and did.

The eyes. Every canvas in the castle showed that detail with plenty use of color: she used to have azure eyes, like the morning sky after a blizzard. Ikor took his father’s green ice lakes, but the shape was hers, impossible to deny. More than ever, with the ice that was making this figure somehow alive, they looked exactly like his. They had never looked so much alike.

The weight kept getting more pressing.

He almost pressed a hand over his stomach.

The temple was cold.

Incredibly, unbelievably, unbearably-

He was awakened by a hand over his shoulder. All of the sudden he came back from the past, remembering what life he was living, and what it meant for him.

Right. He came all the way here again. This time though, he wasn’t alone.

Riff wasn’t even looking at him, his widened eyes were all over the statue in front of them… showing no tact as usual. Ao-ki’s light steps were right on the other side, refrain herself from acting in every way… as she wasn’t aware of the entire ceremony. Trek was stiff as his element, lips pressed together in a tight line, staring at the memorial… like that was somehow a more decorous thing to do. While Eron was of course on his toes, producing little surprised sounds as he tried to get taller… to have a big look around the place like he was at a museum – Gormiti could call them mini-Heralds as much as they wanted, he was the real child.

In the prince’s head there was a big problem with the situation entirely. This place was sacred, forbitten to people not belonging to the royal family, and even more to outsiders of the Ice Realm. In the prince’s heart, as soon as Riff’s warm hand made his shoulder itch unpleasantly, in comparison to his cold skin, a sudden serenity took over.

One year ago, he would had lost it in front of such a violation of the rules.

One year ago, he hadn’t felt as protected as now.

With less stiffness into his bones he approached the memorial, lowered onto the surface and sat onto his knees with his hands resting on his kneecaps. A typical icy pose. When the Herald of Fire tried to get down and imitate his position, he managed to slip and fall onto his toes in a frustrated growl – luckily too caught up by his own ineptitude to notice the little snicker of the ice prince. When the hothead somehow managed to get down with his legs crossed, somehow creating a perfect straight angle, he turned to him with a forced smile over his already annoyed face.

He was holding himself back. Considerate Riff, that was new. It got him uncharacteristically more relaxed, especially at admiring his useless efforts at sitting right. Ikor decided he could spare him the chance to make a fool of himself, just this once.

“This position is tradition for my tribe, not yours. Sit down the way you prefer.”

“Oh thank the Lords!” This firey didn’t even try to hold back that one majestic sigh of relief coming from his mouth – they were all hotheads with zero matters indeed, colored him surprised –, as he fell into a much more laid-back position. “How are you even holding it? You’re on your knees on a ceiling made of ice!”

His azure fists clenched without his permission.

“After ten years of doing it, you learn how to stay still.” Zot, it wasn’t supposed to come out like this. Not like he held a grudge, that wasn’t it… obviously.

There was sudden silence by Riff’s side, and it was horrible. The last, the absolute last thing this prince wanted was pity, a look of compassion he couldn’t recognize in the eyes of his friends. It wasn’t the reason he brought them along, looking for sympathy wasn’t the icy way. It wasn’t even Ikor’s way, it was uncomfortable and unfair. Especially with the most reckless, irresponsible and genuinely forward of the Heralds, because with him it would had felt like a defeat. A way to say that he lost respect in favor of carefulness. It wasn’t him, it wasn’t them.

They stayed silence for a moment too long. Ikor was ready to open his mouth and make the snarkiest comment he had in store, to bring back the balance into their chaotic relationship. Then the redhead gave him an awkward yet very heartfelt shoulder.

“That’s pretty awesome of you. Nothing less from my formidable rival.”

Oh. That didn’t feel like pity. That felt like inevitably clumsy, reluctantly honest Riff. It looked like there was no need to adjustment after all, no intervention. This felt… okay? It was so foreign and nice he wasn’t absolutely sure. As soon as the Herald of Fire was down the others followed. No surprise Eron opted to sit down with crossed legs, although in his case it was probably the way windies tended to sit down during important events. Ao-ki didn’t miss a beat at sitting just like the prince, showing the perfect position like she had been living in the Ice Realm for decades – nothing less coming from the Guardian of Knowledge.

Less unsurprising was seeing Trek attempting to do the same, his torso pushed a little too forward yet plenty of aware of his position. Even more shocking was the rocky placing a sloggu in front of the memorial. Where it came from wasn’t important – Ikor did suspect there was a secret stock into the Rock bracelet though –, it seemed to mean something more than nutrition this time.

It was very different too; the surface was white. Trek caught the confusion and grinned.

“My mom added powder sugar, to make it look like snow.” Oh. What a touch. An unfamiliar, wholesome touch. “In the Rock Realm these are the offerings for those who passed away. I hope you don’t mind, I know your culture is important to you as much as mine is important to me. We just wanted to pay respect.” The rocky looked so affectionate and apologetic at the same time. No living being could had said not to him – besides maybe the Darkans but you know, the Darkans.

Although the prince couldn’t answer right away. There was an image his head had decided to create out of pure and cruel imagination: warm hands preparing the offering, with the fondness only a mother could have. Suddenly it was very hard to swallow. Something inside his chest was agitating again and he didn’t know why.

“Rocky parents sound different. I doubt an icy mother would prepare something like this… by hand.” That wasn’t it. It had nothing to do with bakery skills or handwork abilities.

Pages of a book being turned gently.

A deep and elegant voice reading out loud.

The occasional and most feeble caress over his hair, like it wanted to reassure him but without losing composure .

Fading images. Those were the only semi vivid thoughts he attributed to her. No sweets, no carefulness, no soothing memories to bring forward in his life. It was such a far, unfocused, parallel world it met dream and reality in the middle. He didn’t even know if it happened, his father never mentioned his mother reading him stories. According to him, she acted elegantly, intelligently. Distantly. If this wasn’t a memory at all, what was left? Was there anything left at all?

The rocky was giving him that look… the one he usually reserved to small animals in peril. Which was downing and annoying, but then again, it was Trek.

That smile was too big and fond to be frustrating.

“One of these days, I wanna invite you all for dinner. Mom will make a feast for us, you’ll see!” His eyes lightened up whenever he talked about her. Something Ikor could hardly understand. “Would that be okay?” Something that maybe he wanted to understand.

Ikor lingered over the thought, imagining an atmosphere he wasn’t used to. While the idea took form into his mind, his hands went over his bag, pulling out a bundle made of dark green leaves. He slowly unwrapped it in front of the memorial: a handful of uncooked rice and some chopped vegetables – his perfectionism didn’t allow him to not adjust a few slices so they were all aligned. Icy offerings. So very different. As he he moved the sloggu over the leaves, like they all belonged to the same set, he held back a little smile at hearing the Rocky’s happy gulp,.

“I believe it would be fine. Please thank your mother on my behalf, Trek.” His friend nodded firmly, eyes lightened up once again. Weird. His throat felt so stuffy and heavy all of the sudden, like he had breathed smoke. Very weird.

Never mind that, there was another important item to present to the ceremony. His azure hand disappeared into the bag again.

Right as a clear one appeared at the corner of his view.

“Let me.” Ao-ki’s voice was impossibly gentle today. Ikor nodded right away, feeling that in the hand of the Guardian of Light his lantern would have been treated more than adequately. It was quite little compared to the ones hanging in front of other statues, all widely decorated and majestic. This one was round, light green, with a single symbol from icy alphabet right in the middle. Wisdom. In the Guardian’s hands it started to brighten up. “Gentle soul beyond our world, follow this light and come back to us once more.” She was aware of the reason behind the use of illumination for this occasion. It wasn’t surprising. Her voice was almost reduced to a whisper, as her powers slowly brought the lantern to life. It wasn’t surprising.

A round green aura appeared around the object. A few grains of ice fell from the ceiling, dancing in the air until they touched the ground. The Guardian slowly let her smile fade. Even though they were both looking forward, it felt like they were facing each other.

“Thank you, Ao-ki.” The statue always gave him a weird feeling. Every year it seemed different and the same. Absolutely identical to the paintings and stories created in her honor, and mostly a stranger for him. It was a lightly sickening shiver that made him uncomfortable all over. From how the girl by his side adjusted her position, she knew what he was feeling.

“… you were really young.” It was true. Growing up it felt like both a curse and a blessing. “How… how did it happen?” Somehow, coming from her, it was anything but inappropriate. Not only Ao-ki was one of the most respectful and controlled people he knew, it was about this girl and her story entirely. He and the Heralds had never asked what had happened to her to end up in the One Tower. She never told anything. They could all conclude that voicing ignorance made no sense, it was only downing. She was close to him; apart from parents she didn’t know a thing about. She was far too; holding a story that needed to be unraveled.

It made sense in its own way.

“Bandits.” Ikor made a pause, like he was waiting for someone to interrupt him or comment. Nothing. “Being the Treasurer of Knowledge meant travelling, especially outside the realm. Something happened, I don’t know the details.” The story had been both downplayed to excuse the guards that hadn’t protected the queen and exaggerated for the citizens to find another way to praise their ruler. Even so… “No matter the version, it always ends the same: the carriage comes back with a broken artifact.” Her scepter, the one that had been used to make the statue. The crack was evident only to those that knew it was there.

It looked unreasonably painful, like it genuinely hurt.

The others weren’t talking, it was more upsetting than surprising. Ao-ki had a very sad smile on her face. Whenever she joined them during their Herald shenanigans she looked like any other gormian, but in moments like she truly appeared as the person that had looked over the Elestar for so long, waiting for them heroes to finally step up and defend the world.

“You know, I firmly believe the Lords know what they’re doing with destiny. No matter what happens in our lives, this is the right direction.” She gave him a kind look, like she wanted to hold his hand for comfort. “All we can do is move forward, no matter what.” It came out as an encouragement, which was not odd coming from their biggest support in their adventures. It was the situation that was weird. All this comfort, all of this cheerful nature towards such a melancholic past. What was all of this for? Why was it supposed to affect him?

A painful pinch in his stomach almost made him bow.

Oh. Right. He wasn’t above everything like he hoped. A stupid realization that for some reason had hit him only after years, only after leaving that freezing realm he called home.

In truth, there was a lot agitating inside. Too much for his pride to allow it. He wanted to push it down of course, he wanted to pretend it didn’t exist. After all, this wasn’t the tearful story of a random gormian that lost its beloved mother. This was barely the epilogue of a prince that hadn’t been able to know the person that gave him his life. He was the heir of the royal family of the Ice Realm, this cold, solitary and quiet place was the representation of how his mind had been shaped to be through the years, going towards the main goal of taking the throne and lead towards the future with intelligence. This was him, it was supposed to be him. Prince Ikor, son of king Kori and… queen Riko. That was all. That was all.

The room was silent, barely echoing whenever a minuscule piece of ice would fall from the ceiling onto the ground. He was in the middle of the freezing land, head down, thinking that this had never happened before. He had come here every year after his mother had passed, on his own, paying respect like it was his duty to do. He had never felt this troubled inside, it actually affected him somehow. How? He didn’t know her! He didn’t remember her!

Suddenly the quietness roared into his ears, and he realized he hadn’t said a thing. How long? His friends had to be worried. He didn’t want this burden too, not now. What to say though? To them, or to her? He didn’t have a speech, he never actually talked to her.

He… never felt worthy of it.

His heart did that painful thing again. The statue of the queen was suddenly so menacing. It was looking. She was looking at him, with those vitreous eyes so unbearably similar to his. She was judging him, and he couldn’t talk, his throat was completely and utterly dry. He had to say something. Anything. She was here, everyone was here! Why was he never capable when he most needed?? He needed to speak, show his worth to her, of-

For the second time, a hand woke him up from his own mind. This time, it was light and shaky on his shoulder, like it couldn’t stay put. Huh. It had been beyond weird that he hadn’t said a single word until now. Eron was smiling widely, looking right where his mother was.

He didn’t look scared. At all.

“Hi Mrs. Ikor’s mom! I’m Eron, the funny one!” He giggled, his voice echoed all over the place. “You know, when I met Ikoko, I really thought I got to know the most boring gormian in existence! I mean, studying, complaining, getting mad, following the rules, what’s the fun in that? Then I found out that he’s so cool, and not only cool because he’s an icy, but because he’s that cool! He knows how to plan and he’s super smart and can snowboard and shoot!” The hold onto his shoulder got stronger. “He’s also brave, and even kind when he wants to, you know? I get scared easily, that’s a windy thing, and when I do he’s always there to protect me… kinda like a brother.” Eron turned to him, giving the most earnest smile.

The slightest wind moved their hair, even though that place was supposed to keep the freezing air outside. It wasn’t cold the slightest, it was sparkling, energetic. The prince opened his mouth once, just for the effort. Nothing came out. For once he didn’t have his sophisticated vocabulary by his side, he couldn’t explain what was happening inside and outside him.

As usual, Eron seemed very eager to break his quiet silence with more chaos.

He was eyeing their firey friend now, who looked a little hesitant. They had a similar pride, but different resolution though, as Riff puffed up his chest right after.

“Hello queen- ma’am- huh, sorry, I don’t really get this icy royalty stuff! Anyway I’m Riff, also known as king Riff, also known as the Ultimate Gormian! Icies and Fireies usually don’t get along much and Ikor is so icy it’s unbelievable, so of course we crash and burn a lot.” He stopped for a moment, clearly recollecting his thoughts. “But now I think… it’s not really about being from two opposite tribes, it’s us being us.” He snickered. “And I like us being us, I like when we fight on style against technique, style is better, I like when we fight so much we destroy the Keep in the Mountain and the One Tower. I like… when we support each other during our adventures, because even though we are different we know what we need to do to help each other. No matter where we come from, Ikor is a rival, a great opponent… a precious ally. Our precious ally.”

The air was hotter. It wasn’t possible, not in the slightest, this place had been literally erected in the middle of a realm made of ice and snow. Yet it was clearly onto them, a soft warmth onto their skins, comforting and fierce. Very different from the walls around them.

Eron was onto Ao-ki now, the Guardian of Light didn’t wait a single moment. She moved a little forward and bowed her head.

“It is very nice to meet you, queen Riko. I am Ao-ki, the Guardian of the One Tower. Like my friends, I’m learning how to fulfill my role every day, so they can count on my support as much as I can count on theirs.” She straightened up, smiling brightly. “And I know I can count on Ikor. He always tries to make a plan before rushing into things, he thinks ahead and does his best no matter the situation. During our journey we faced many difficult challenges, but no matter what he managed to pull through.” She looked at him, soft as ever. “When things get chaotic, or the Darkans are attacking, or I get kidnapped by Voidus, I know he will always have his mind in the right place and his heart for our team… for our family.”

There were no windows into the First Temple, no space to let the sun enter; there were only feeble crystals barely able to lighten up the faces of the statues in an almost creepy manner. Yet the entire room seemed to lighten up just now. Maybe it was solely into his mind, maybe he was imagining all of this. He didn’t manage to question it.

At last, the windy gave their rocky friend a little elbow. Trek looked as determined as ever, straightening up. Still and strong, like a true rocky.

“Hello ma’am, my name is Trek! In the Rock Realm we talk to adults like we talk to anyone, so I’ll be completely honest.” He scratched the back of his neck, grimacing. “In reality… I used to think Ikor was pretty scary.” Riff and Eron couldn’t hold back a few snickers. “Rockies can be very serious too, but he looked like he would have scolded me if I did something wrong. Which happened sometimes.” He giggled. “I know I can be clumsy and hard to depend on, I wanna still be the best I can be. When I found my determination, I didn’t find him scary anymore. And Ikor, he’s kinda my role model. I wanna be as dependable as he is, a person you call when you need help, someone that protects you and make sure you’re safe.” He looked at him, with that big warm smile that was what made Trek this affable.

It felt like sand. Tiny little scratches all over, like a wind coming from the red-hot desert of the Rock Realm had somehow managed to make its way over here. Yet it wasn’t annoying, it didn’t hurt. It was present and it reminded him of a place that wasn’t always still and emotionless.

His heart was doing it again.

He simply couldn’t control it.

Ao-ki crossed her eyes with the other Heralds, they all nodded. When she placed her hands down, all the others tried that same pose, and Ikor felt like this moment was unreal. They all bowed down, the way icies did. His friends were paying respect in the most tasteful way, even doing their best at imitating his tribe’s costumes. It was for his sake, so why was his body feeling this heavy? He was supposed to be appreciative, so why was his mind this hard to focus?

Why was he feeling like something was about to explode from the inside?

“Thank you for Ikor, your majesty.”

“Yes Mrs. Ikor’s mom, we’ll take care of him!”

“Just as much as he takes care of us.”

“Thank you sir- huh girl- queen- ah, this is too weird for me, thank you!” Riff grinned, straightening up from his position. “Anything you wanna say, dude?” He turned to give the prince a rare soft look. It immediately broke, in favor of pure shock.

There were gasps, coming from both his sides. He didn’t understand them, he couldn’t, his mind and body weren’t responding right and he couldn’t even begin to get why they were all looking at-

Something warm fell onto his knees.

His misty eyes started to burn horribly.

Multiple drops blocked his view.

Oh .

He was so surprised by himself he barely reacted at all. Although with his throat pinching like had swallowed a drop of lava from the Fire Realm, he was sure he would have not been able to say a word anyway. Tears. He was crying. This was ridiculous to a preposterous point. Regular gormians produced tears in moment of distress, it was like an emotional concentration melting down someone’s cheeks. He wasn’t stupid – he was the very opposite of stupid, thank you very much – he knew what it was and what I meant. It wasn’t for him. It wasn’t for an icy, it wasn’t for a prince, it wasn’t for him. It represented the failure at keeping his emotions in check, an absolute shame for the Ice Tribe.

Years had passed and it had never occurred before. Not when he first saw his mother’s tomb, not when his father told him why there was only a single throne into the Ice Castle. There would have been so many better reasons for crying before, hypothesizing that he would have been allowed to do it, so why because of this? Why because of her? Why for queen Riko?

Why for his… mother… oh.

He was smart, very smart. Yet he had it wrong for all of this time. All he had pretended not to have inside surfaced altogether. There was no holding back anymore.

She was gone. His mother was gone. She was gone before he got to know her, she was gone before she knew he was going to become a Herald. She was gone before he could work hard and find a way to make her proud of being his mother. She left this world like a stranger, like a mystical figure that was always going to be more of a model and less of a parent, and he had been left behind. Alone to deal with his insecurities and responsibilities, against a realm that didn’t allow him to feel like him, with the guidance of a father that looked at him as a prince first and a son second.

It was never about the why and the when after all. It was a where. Years of visiting this place felt all the same, but this once was very different, he had known that from the start.

It was the first time he was allowed to grief.

It was the first time in his life, he was allowed to feel.

Crying was new and disconcerting. He had no information about it, there was no familiar feeling he could rationalize. It was destabilizing and confusing, it took over everything else and he didn’t know how to stop it and if he had to stop it. He covered his face, to try and feel like at least he was in control of something, because nothing was more terrifying for him that being hopeless in front of a hard challenge. Then, an intensely warm hold went over his shoulder, with a name that was there even thought there was no voice. A light body was pressed against his side in a little hug, so very affectionate with him as only one person could be. On his back there was a solid hand, strong yet kind, because such power hid an even greater heart. Then his own hands were taken away from his face, gently, so he could look up and meet the eyes of the Guardian. Her image was unfocused, but she was smiling at him.

Like it was okay. Because it was okay.

Ikor lost it there, completely, sobs echoing through the entire temple. His friends were right there with him, holding him together like he would have broken if he had been let on his own. It felt like he would have. He was sure he would have.

For once in his life, he wasn’t scared of falling apart.

 

***

 

The temple was cold .

So very cold .

It was a rather peculiar statement, coming from the king of this gloriously cold realm. Even preposterous in a way. How could the already everlasting winter of this land turn even more paralyzing, simply in front of a specific building? It was so horribly irrational, and only the Lords could have known how much the fireies would have laughed at that particular thought coming from the ruler of the Ice Tribe – something king Kori didn’t want to ponder on, for the sake of a migraine. Yet he couldn’t help himself. It hadn’t been this incredibly lonely and freezing when he took the throne. It hadn’t been through years of a solid and brilliant realm

It had been when he lost the love of his life.

It was now… now that after years, he had finally decided to meet her again.

It had been so long. A part of him still could imagine her being afar simply because of a new journey of her, to travel and know more about their world. The temple of the First Queen of the Ice Realm was prestigious and majestic, there really was no reason to be this critic. Maybe there just wasn’t a place in Gorm good enough for the eternal somber of his Riko.

His feet were unmoving in front of the entrance. They had been for quite a while. The red doors were waiting, so was he. Like it was supposed to open through sheer will. Something he currently lacked. He had been here before, for ceremonies.

Only here though. Never inside, never on this day.

A very loud clearing voice made his shoulders jump.

“You’re holding the line, your majesty!” King Kori blinked and looked behind himself. Ah, there was no such thing as a line. Just his annoying nephew, that was obviously laughing already. “It really runs into the family! You guys are hilarious, I swear! It’s so easy it’s not fun… except it is!” He shook his head in pure delight, moving his hands like he was making air to himself. With them, the bunch of flowers he brought along were moving. Winter flowers, the most common in the Ice Realm. Riko’s favorites. Was he aware?

King Kori had to take a breath before finding his voice again, only to find the little realm scout by his side with a very wide smirk still present on his face. The ruler sighed.

“What are you doing here?”

“Apparently the same thing you finally decided to do! About time!” Ah, another gulp. He was in charge of an entire realm, he had to get a grip on himself. Especially in presence of someone with such a love for mockery like Fylkir. “Looks like I’ll have double the fun this year! Teasing one of you is great, but both at the same time? Priceless!” How insufferably careless and frivolous. King Kori blamed his lightheaded sister-in-law for that education, a despicable icy that had for some reason decided to move into the Wind Realm after her sister had passed. This child was nothing like a normal, serious icy.

He was nothing like Ikor. Not as calculated and disciplined.

Not as… lonely.

King Kori narrowed his eyes. He put his hands behind his back to hide the evident shake of them, that still probably didn’t go unnoticed by the youngling right by his side. That head of his still belonged to this frozen land.

“Is my son inside?” His voice came out almost weak. He didn’t care too much at the moment.

“Probably. I know he was supposed to come along at this hour!” Fylkir sighed dreamily with an impossible amount of sarcasm in his voice. “Ah, father and son! I’m not sure that visiting an ancient temple to pay respect to a missing queen is a popular bonding activity, but you never know!” Curse this irritating boy. “Not like you’re worried about Ikor’s reaction anyway, right?”

“What? Of course not!” No, snapping wasn’t like a king at all. He quickly cleared his voice, wiping imaginary dust from his ceremonial clothes. “I am the king of the Ice Realm, the ruler of a tribe famous of a literal cold blood! I have led the Elite Guard of the Ice Castle into battle more times than I can count! There is no such a thing as a gormian like me being concerned.” His wrist was shaking like mad, the shivering was going up his arm too. It was an awful habit of him, it showed lies that he should had been able to keep for himself. It was no wonder he always had his fists clenched, like he was constantly mad. He wasn’t.

Yet afraid? Of what exactly? Of having missed every single anniversary of the death of his beloved because the pain had been too much? Of facing the child that had in himself a strength that the king had never acquired in years of leading and fighting? Of looking at him in the eyes and see what had been of his child, while he was too busy ruling the realm and keeping feelings outside his heart?

Fylkir raised an eyebrow at him, somehow still as euphoric as ever. He definitely heard a different response from the one the king said out loud.

“I wouldn’t worry about that. I mean, you literally taught him to never hate you!” That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. His nephew seemed plenty of aware. “It looks like you had a rough awakening or something, what happened?” The first smart question he had ever heard from him. If only king Kori had an answer to that, it was less about the way he woke up on this day in particular, and what had happened to his world lately.

Something was in motion, that much he knew. Another era of Gorm that was moving along everything… what else had to change?

“… we’ve stalled enough.” He looked back at the doors. “Let’s get in.”

“Old men first.”

Zottobo, not even his own son was allowed to talk to him that way. This insolent boy knew how to take advantage of his position, close enough to the royal family but far enough not to care. Perhaps this ‘old man’ would have reacted much more strongly given such a petty and predictable insult. He would have raised his voice again perhaps, as today his filter wasn’t quite working according to his will. If only weren’t the doors suddenly being opened from the inside, pulverizing any other thought. There it was. The entrance of the place he feared the most in all of Gorm.

There it was, his child, right in between.

He was smiling like Kori had never seen him do before. His eyes were lucid, his cheeks wet. Right when he crossed those green gems, his same color, the prince perked up losing a bit of joy.

He put his hands down and bowed.

“Father.”

“… Ikor.” Despite his education over the importance of addressing the royal family as what it was, the ‘prince’ didn’t come out as usual. It was stuck, distracted by the impossibility of the situation. “Why… what are you doing here?” His voice was low, nowhere near the absolute majestic tone that could lead an entire realm. Once again, he truly didn’t care. That wasn’t the right question anyway. It wasn’t intelligent or sharp. Of course Ikor was here. Of course he was here for one specific reason. Yet this expression of his, his mannerism, his way of behaving. Everything felt weird and out of place and he didn’t know how to take it.

A sweet curve widened over the prince’s face.

“I came to pay my respects to mother.” His eyes lightened up a little. “Perhaps… are you here for the same reason?” The spark of that something Fylkir had accused him of feeling before made him freeze onto his feet. He really had her eyes, identical if only not for the color. They exposed him.

Kori could only nod. His son responded with an expression.

He looked… happy? Was that happiness on the young face of his child? Kori didn’t know, he hadn’t seen it enough to actually be sure. It hurt. His words were so earnest and natural they left him paralyzed. He had known about Ikor’s visits to his mother for years, all through the ruler’s absolute refusal to come along not matter the amount of requests. Yet it felt wrong for the first time thinking about it. The thought he had directly connected to Riko was of a tiny little icy with big green eyes, too young to understand why his mother was disappearing into a closed place to never come back. The young boy in front of him wasn’t like that. It had his same composure, his same posture, yet that was the face of someone else.

The icy ruler couldn’t move.

Fylkir could and did, somehow beaming harder than ever at his cousin.

“Well look at you now! Looks like you had a really nice chat with aunty!” The realm scout didn’t seem bothered at all. He even looked ecstatic to see it. “You’re funnier this way! I’m sure she was happy to see you a little less on edge!”

Ikor blinked. His eyelashes were still lucid. Slowly he smiled.

“I do hope so.” His eyes fell onto the flowers. There was a veil of melancholic light in them, a complexity that Kori should had been plenty of aware of. Yet this moment every single side of his son felt absolutely surprising. “Thank you, Fylkir.” The taller icy frowned. “You took care of the flowers for her every year… you even brought violets this time, her favorites.” He knew. He really did listen, back when pain wasn’t this strong and Kori used to talk about her. He even remembered. “Thank you.” He spoke like a prince. No… like an adult.

It didn’t feel right, even off in a way. For reasons unbeknownst to the king. On the contrary the realm scout looked absolutely charged.

“Aww, cousin! You’re getting all sentimental today!” He cooed, immediately wrapping his free arm around the prince’s neck. “It was no biggie, really! With the scouting team with me, knowing where to find these babies is a piece of sloggu!” He smacked his lips together, changing expression into a deviously and familiar one.” Buuuuut… if you’re up for a little award for my hard wooooork… there’s an icy valley I haven’t played my horn in and I’m up for a duet!” He still did that childish prank? This gormian was hopeless, a benediction that he wasn’t directly involved with the royals.

Ikor raised a powerful eyebrow, his cousin immediately rolled his eyes like he heard the scolding out loud. They grew up together. As different as they were, they had still shared most of their lives.

“I won’t waste my breath for an answer you already know.”

“Ah, zottobo! You’re no fun!”

“… how about a counteroffer?” Oh. That smirk. That wasn’t like the prince at all. Icies were prideful and ready to show their superiority anytime, but this looked different. “How about I allow you to call a rematch? As in… downhill obstacle challenge?” Like it was about the challenge itself, not the outcome, let alone showing who was the best.

Fylkir wasn’t a stranger to overreactions, yet that almost four-second-long gasp was a bit much even for him. It charged a smile that seemed able to melt the snow all around them.

“Are you for real?!” Ikor nodded, looking pretty pleased by himself and his decision. “Yes! Absolutely yes! You haven’t given anyone a chance since you won the championship, of course I’m taking it!” He gave him a playful punch right in the middle of his chest, showing off a grin. “I hope you’re ready to lose, because this is a crown I’m actually interested in stealing from you! I go down a hill with a board on a regular basis, you have no chance!” He posed, the icy scout, like he wasn’t admitting he put a random sport before his role as an explorer of the Realm of Ice.

King Kori wasn’t saying a thing. He should have, of course he should have, he was a king and his presence was either being ignored of taken for granted. Any attempt of a word died into his throat anyway, when something even more surprising emerged from the doors of the First Temple. The most colorful group of gormians he had ever seen, met first in the least simple circumstances.

The windy one, Eron, was already bouncing, almost launching himself over Ikor’s back while giving a fist bump to the realm scout – it surprised no one that those two had become friends fast, more shocking was that the Ice Castle hadn’t been put under siege of pranks.

“I wanna join! I wanna skate down the hill like Ikor did! It was so cool!” With how touchy and energetic this being was, it was a wonder how his son hadn’t lost his cool already.

He seemed almost at ease, used to. Fylkir frowned, looking at his cousin.

“Wait, I thought you stopped skating when you were around four?”

“I did, I don’t practice any longer.” It was an old hobby of him, Kori remembered it. It was a waste of time, he remembered saying. Ikor looked down the hill in front of the First Temple, all the way towards the freezing sea. “But when you get attacked by a Darkan who can manifest portals while your friends are on an iceberg slowly sinking into the freezing water, you happen to have little choice… and those choices might get a little crazy.”

He was grinning. It felt new. It felt horrible that it felt new.

“Hey, if you’re going for a challenge, I want in too!” Kori couldn’t hold back a wince. Luckily none of the kids were looking at him, not even the firey that had just come out of the temple with that loud voice. “I can beat every opponent, no matter what! This ultimate gormian has his own revenge going on! Style versus technique, the final showdown!!” Whatever he was talking about felt bothering. It wasn’t about his words, but it was shameful at this point admitting that it was about his provenience. Kori knew better than to give the blame to the Fire Realm at this point, he was smarter than that. They had no blame… Riko’s last journey had just happened to go through such a dangerous realm. It wasn’t about them, yet feelings were still there.

… feelings? Why was he paying attention to the hopeless fluctuations of his heart? Why was the scene before him so intense? Why… was he feeling more connected to reality, as he was finally understanding why he was right here with them in the first place?

The rocky reached the others with a big smile.

“Might not be taflu, but I wanna participate too! It’s been a while since we had some fun together!” He turned to the girl. “What about you, Ao-ki? Are you up?”

“No way, you won’t convince me to join one of your silly rivalry games! The shooting challenge, the tournament in the One Tower, Ikor and Riff’s training, it always ended up in a disaster!” The Guardian of Light crossed her arms with a huff. Yet between Ikor’s skeptical expression, Fylkir’s smirk, the fire one’s little grin, Trek’s pleading look and Eron’s puppy eyes, it took less than five seconds for her to release a hopeless sigh. “Fine. Not like you listen to me anyway.” The Heralds cheered, while she smirked. “But I’m winning this, just to get back at you for all your messes!”

“Please! You might have lights and shields, but we fireies have style! Don’t forget that!”

“This is a sliding challenge, it’s all about being one with the wind! No one better than a windy for that, no doubt! You guys don’t stand a chance!”

“I might not be fast, but rockies never go down easy! We stand strong!”

“Are you guys all forgetting that this is a challenge between my cousin and I, and that we literally come from the realm that invented this sport? Go home while you still can!” Fylkir was grinning so much, never letting go of Ikor. Ikor looked… radiant. “Alright, how about we see each other at sunset on top of Mount Trytion? That place is wide enough for a lot of players.” The entire group nodded in excited cheering noises, so very different from each other. “Cool! This one I gotta tell aunty Riko about! Are we going in?… uncle?” Oh. He didn’t usually call him that. They relationship was so conditioned by how he wasn’t a direct heir to the throne that the times to remember they were family weren’t often.

King Kori wasn’t moving. His eyes were fixed on the Heralds, smiling to each other, bracelets out to summon whatever other magic they had in store. It was a legend. It used to be a hopeless fairy tale to make the little gormians fall asleep faster.

He never read it to his son though. It was Riko. She made sure he had dreams of his own.

“Come forth, Hyperbeasts!” In a spiral of colors and lights, four majestic creatures appear before the warriors, roaring fiercely. Mounts most likely, another surprise.

So little. He knew so little after all.

Ikor was his child. A prince, the heir of the Ice Realm, a Herald of Ice, a Defender of the Realm. There were so many titles behind this young, fragile body, that was welcoming this massive bear creature like it was a precious friend. His green eyes softened and bright, the way he leaned his forehead over the animal’s with no fear or hesitation, the soft grumble of approval coming from the beast. This was an Ikor that didn’t have a title. A side that didn’t have a label. Was it always there? How come he had never seen it? This determinate, gentle, sympathetic Ikor?

… wrong. He did see it, since the very beginning. He did his best to suppress it, like his life depended on it, through education and sternness. His son smiled again at his beast, then he looked up at him. His eyes lost light again.

No more.

“Fylkir, please go on without me. I will follow you shortly.” He didn’t have to look  to know he had his nephew’s glance at him. A confused look? A knowing expression? Who knew at this point. “Son, I would like to talk to you for a mom-” It made him gulp how the mighty bear beast reacted with such a huge startle, looking immensely uncomfortable and wary. “Is there something wrong with your creature?” It was giving him looks, it gave him shivers for some reasons. It was acting so carefully around him, like it was scared of him.

“Ah, no, he’s- Calm down Cryos, stay put!” Ikor held the beast’s muzzle so it wasn’t looking at the king. The creature seemed perceptive and relaxed a little. That felt important, but that felt also like something minor to address in a less important occurrence. The prince waved at his friends, as to go on without him. They seemed a little hesitant, before taking off. Everyone was so on guard around him. “Yes, father?”

This needed to happen after all.

Everything was closing around the small figure of his son, the sound of the waves slowly disappeared from his mind. Instead, the echo of something else started to ring. The doors of the Ice Castle slammed open, with Lieutenant Sorkos rushing in to communicate something that was going to inevitably break his heart forever. Then the cries of the people, so obediently silent yet unable to contain their pain for their queen; unlike their king, who had already started to toughen up his heart for the years to come. The flowing of the wind, so strong and unleashed that day, like it was bringing along the change and the pain of the citizens. At the end of the day, in the middle of his own storm, Kori had forgotten about everything that didn’t involve his suffering.

He forgot about him. Too little to understand, wearing ceremonial clothes too long on the sleeves, fixed into that pose with the fist onto his heart like it had been taught to him. In those big green and innocent eyes there had been no acknowledgement, not reason of saddening. It had been a comfort for the king. Ikor wasn’t going through the same suffering he himself was.

It was a relief he had pushed through his entire life, knowing that as long as he didn’t feel, he wasn’t going to suffer. The icy way, in the most literal and desperate way possible. Focused, bright, rational… freed from feelings.

His kid didn’t have a normal childhood. He wasn’t like Fylkir, or his other friends, because of that. Because of him. Kori took that away from him. For that, for all of that…

“I’m sorry.”

What a particular word. It was ignored by most icies through their entire lives, and now the ruler of them all was here, apologizing to a youngling. Ikor had his eyes wide opened, mouth agape, all the composure he had left completely gone. Another face he had never looked on him, he was discovering his son all over again. Was it a good time though? Was it too late? He would have understood if it was. It came out of nowhere, from a forgotten part of him that still wished for something to be happy about after Riko was gone.

Everything he did until now had been dictated by his desperate desire to be a good leader despite the pain. It turned out he did more damage than good. If this out of character behavior of him was even going to make a slightly difference, he was going to take it.

If it wasn’t enough, if it wasn’t meaningful enough, if he needed to explain why and the reasons behind or work harder to make him understand that-

“It’s okay.” … ah. Right. How could he forget that? “It is okay, father.” His son was smart, he was exceptionally intelligent. He had grown, kind and strong.

He truly was his mother’s son.

Before he knew Kori was leaning down on his knees. He was holding his tiny shoulders between his hands. They held all of Gorm on it, and he was still so young. The amount of things he had accomplished at this age was astonishing. The king looked at him, right into his eyes, with an expression he knew must had come as a first because Ikor seemed almost fearful at looking back. Kori then brought the youngling closer, his hands over his little back, one hand to guide him against his shoulder. A gesture that was so very not like him it felt right.

Icies didn’t hug. That simply wasn’t their custom. It was a very windy gesture, or rocky, even more of a firey thing than icy. This was plain out of his comfort zone, and it was immediately awkward.

Ikor went completely stiff. Kori felt his own heart, for the first time in forever, like despite being the adult he was just as worried as any kid. The last thing he wanted was to cause more damage. This though, this needed to be done, now that he knew the wrongs of the past and how to correct the future. His hand went over his spiky hair, caressing them as slowly as he could, to not mess it up even more.

He swallowed, because this is something his own father had never told him.

Yet Kori was the king now. He could be allowed to follow his own rules.

“I’m proud of you, my son.”

The prince gulped, strongly. It was such a vivid reaction, coming from the collected heir of the Ice Realm, his own child. Kori was almost worried the change was so sudden it terrified him. Then, there was a change. Nothing like melting, but the furthest thing from keeping it cool. Like there had always been a way to let something softer emerge from the cold and piercing ice, and his son had found it on his own. His little arms were reaching for his back, hesitant yet firm, trying to find a grip. His body was shaking of feelings he was discovering step by step.

There were ten years in between, that king Kori had spend trying to look after his frozen heart instead of his and Riko’s kid. Perhaps he was overly optimistic, something that he had seen only onto those annoying windies and his even more annoying nephew. But…

D-Dad.”

They could begin from here. This felt like a mighty, hopeful start.