The earth has entered another Ice Age, arriving when humans learned how to build castles and forts. In a world where magic coexists with suffering, humans and animals alike are learning to adapt and live with one another. Some have evolved to live on the surface where blizzards and snowstorms buffet the landscape; others have descended into the earth or into the icy waters. But no matter where the animals call home, every single being prays for the end of the Arctic Era, where the planet shall warm up once again.
Yet beneath this frigid wasteland lies a dark and dormant evil. The ice has kept it hidden for all these years, but the oracles and seers say that the Big Freeze will end, and so with it their way of life.
It was Iomi's twenty-sixth's winter, and she had yet to feel the kiss of a summer sun. The woman hoped that her daughter, full of warmth that the Big Freeze had not taken as of yet, would experience summer in her life time. It wasn't that Iomi had lost hope for herself, but with each passing year her spirits sank lower and lower. She watched the sun do its dance along the sky for years, yet when its rays pierced through the clouds, its heat could not rival that of the fireplace. The woman sighed; a puff of mist appeared in the frigid crypt.
A warm muzzle pressed against Iomi's open and gloved palm. The woman smiled wryly and patted Aluki's massive head. The snow lion cuffed in retort and shook his mane.
"I know you don't like it here, but I must do my part for the ritual."
From her seal-skin pouch Iomi withdrew a small ion stone. It sat still in her palm for a mere breath before it levitated, drifting silently in the air. It illuminated the chamber, shafts of light bouncing here and there. To many in Iomi's tribe this crypt was considered sacred, but to a foreigner such a place would be horrifying.
This was the resting place of her ancestors and the rest of her tribe. Dead bodies -- some frostbitten, but all with blue lips -- faced the frozen walkways. It seemed like the bodies could wake at any moment and break from the walls. The sight used to torment Iomi when she was little; it still did in her dreams, but she grew accustomed as did all in her tribe. It was their custom, done for generations.
And custom demanded that Iomi begin the ceremony.
The ranger exhaled, creating a cloud of mist so big that it shrouded her entire chest. Aluki cuffed once more, but fell into step by his mistress. Iomi sang, the halls filling with her people's song for the dead and departed. The eerie notes reverberated along the ice; it was believed that this vibration allowed the dead to hear the living. She took a step, then another, singing all the way with her snow lion following her side. The crypt twisted and turned, but Iomi knew the way. While the floors were icy she never once slipped. And as she progressed further and further, the cold bit harder and harder through her furs and bones. Then finally, she arrived at the end.
It was an altar carved out of gray stone. Her people considered it sacred because unlike the surrounding rock this one never once bore ice. And because it was sacred they gave it offerings and a place in their crypt. Lanterns, bones, jewelry, meat, and furs littered the rock. However, this was not what Iomi was looking at. Her blue-gray eyes were drawn towards the frozen man that stood behind the altar.
Dressed in polar bear and wolf furs, Puja Unnuk looked as intimidating in death as he did in life. Iomi lowered her hood, bent at one knee, and offered her prayers to the founder of her people. She prayed that Puja would lead her late mother to the Green Meadow, so she could finally feel the warm kiss of the sun. [/dashed]