''Metal and Ice''
A PolarJam story.
Our ship hit its first iceberg on the fourth week of the voyage.
Metal buckled with an [[otherworldly]] wail, but the vessel held together.
[[We continued on.|The Landing]]//giant steel lungs groaning out an ancient chant, summoning fathoms of ice-cold smothering weight//
[[back|Arctic Sea]]We made land unexpectedly in the middle of the night.
Our rowboats proved unnecessary. The vessel ran aground, heaving us upward in our slumber, then falling, tumbling out of beds and crashing to the floor. We stumbled out of our cots, tended to injuries, with hired sailors moving swiftly across the ship to try in vain to heal their ward.
[[We had to move.]]
[[We had to wait.]]
If we moved now, we could be back to the ship before any rescue arrived. If we waited longer, our months of preparation would be lost.
[[We moved on.]]
We had provisions, but not enough for the three weeks' worth it might take for a rescue to arrive. Journeying inland before knowing when we would be picked up was foolhardy.
I huddled next to the ætherian messager along with its operator. A nervous being, they twitched their gaze incessantly to the clock on the wall.
"The message will have arrived by now," they told us. "Now we must wait for the reply."
"Two days." They showed no sign of leaving their station, perhaps for the entire span of time.
[[We settled in to await the news.]]
[[We had wasted enough time.->We had to move.]]
"Your Honors! Your Honors!" The operator came scrabbling down the walkway to meet us. "The reply has arrived!"
"What is the word?"
"They have relayed a message to a nearby ship. We can be picked up in precisely eight days fourteen hours."
"Eight days?" We looked around the room at each other. Eight days time was not enough to make it inland to our destination and back, even if all things went smoothly - a near impossibility on a journey such as this.
We hung our heads. No one could speak.
We arrived home alive.
[[play again->Arctic Sea]]The first two days were ...uneventful. A battle against cold and snow, walking across a barren landscape of ice.
At first, it seemed unlikely that [[Mercator's research]] contained any validity at all.We continued to follow our compass. That and the Sun were our only guides with which to navigate by, and the Sun could disappear in the swirls of snow and cloud.
Then, on the third day, our compass began [[behaving strangely]].At first, we thought we were simply being clumsy. Compasses fell from our numb hands, but frostbite and the tedium of walking makes many such things happen.
Then we felt its pull. The compasses were rebelling, like magnets opposing each other, except no friendly orientation existed by which we could make them reverse course. They pushed, tugged against our wills, back the way we came.
[[But we moved on.]]
Soon we came to a new shore.
We had expected as much; as Mercator predicted, there was another sea within the lands surrounding the pole. We took this as a good sign, and assembled our portable crafts. As we had hoped, the seas here were calmed as though in a bay, and our small craft ought to be seaworthy enough.
[[We stopped to give them extensive tests before embarking.->Across The Inner Sea]]
[[We quickly embarked on our way.]]
An hour on, we realized our craft was taking on water. Land was barely in sight; we hurried back the way we came.
Our compasses assisted; by this time, they were providing significant force to our craft in the direction we'd come from.
When we set out on land we repaired the leak, and took the time to examine for further flaws.
[[Then we were on our way again.->Across The Inner Sea]]
This ... this is the part you may not believe.
But [[you must]].We paddled forwards, pushing against fear, pushing against the added current of our compasses' pull back home. We looked to the horizon, often thinking we had seen it. The black spire we had come to claim as our prize.
[[We kept pushing against the compass' incessant pull.]]
[[We finally abandoned our compasses to the sea.]]
(set: $haveCompasses to true)
Then [[we saw it]].(set: $haveCompasses to false)
Then [[we saw it]].First sighting was a pure joy. The Black Spire! The magnetic cliffs that were the source of our compasses' alignment!
But then [[we came closer]].The spire ...[[moved]].Ancient arms lifted free from the sides of the hunched being. It slowly rose to its feet.
We were an hour's paddle away, and we watched it [[rise]].Fear overcame us and we turned the craft around. I glanced backwards and saw the being lift one enormous leg up, out of the water, and step towards us.
(if: $haveCompasses is true)[[[Then the impossible happened.]]]
(else:)[[[We paddled as hard as we could.]]]
The Being moved with what looked like slow, plodding steps from a distance, but its size was such that each slow step brought it much closer than our paddles could propel us away.
Our compasses, tucked away securely so as not to fly off, ought to have been our saviors now as we paddled in agreement with their force.
But suddenly we realized they were no longer helping us. They were [[lifting us.]]The Being moved with what looked like slow, plodding steps from a distance, but its size was such that each slow step brought it much closer than our paddles could propel us away.
For a moment, we thought we had lost our senses as we caught a glimpse of our compasses hovering in the air before us, resurrected from the waters we had thrown them to, then flying past us in a blur towards the Being's open hand. A magnetic clip on a notebook soon wrenched itself out of our grasp and followed.
[[We paddled for our lives.]]We arrived at land and abandoned our boat. We barely had the sense to grab provisions before running, stumbling inland.
The Being was towering over us, nearly to shore. Strange heat radiated from its rocky surface, obscuring our vision of its features, its skin.
Not that we took the time to stop and look closely.
[[It stopped when it reached the shore.]]We kept moving, hearts racing, barely glancing back to see that the Being had stopped. It seemed to be lifting our small coracle, examining it.
If I could trust my mind's eye of that time... the craft floated in the air before it.
But our blood boiled with fear of death as [[we ran.]]Now we journey back, hoping to return in time to be picked up by our rescuers.
Compasses gone, we are not as sure as we want to be of our direction. The sun is mercifully bright even through snowstorms, but no instruments came with us to mark precise angles.
We hope we return alive.
[[play again->Arctic Sea]]The secure compartment in our craft that we had stowed the compasses in began to lift one end of our craft out of the water. We no longer had means to steer or propel the craft; we struggled to remain in the boat as the aft end rose and pitched us forward.
Finally one of us reached the latch, opened the lid, and we watched in confusion as the compasses flew upwards and towards the Being's outstretched hand.
[[We paddled for our lives.]]Double-click this passage to edit it.Double-click this passage to edit it.