Whiteness before her, whiteness behind. The endless tracts of ice stretched in all directions around Jingu, broken here and there by jagged shards of ice and snowy hillocks receding towards the horizon. She had been chasing that horizon for a week now, yet it fled from her like a mirage.
She gazed up at the sky. Nary a cloud in sight to hide the noon sun beating down upon her. But she felt a tug on her gums that the cold breeze blowing from the north would bring her trouble. She needed to find shelter, and soon.
Shelter, however, seemed like a myth in this wilderness. Within half an hour. the north breeze turned into a stiff wind, then a gale, and before long, it had turned into a howling storm.
Jingu could no longer see more than a few feet before her, and the mist from her breath obscured the rest of her vision. She could barely hear her boots crunching on the frost as the deafening wind roared in her ears. Despite her fur gear and the natural hardiness of her race, she could feel the cold seeping into her bones. If she stayed like this much longer, she would freeze to death.
How long had she been wandering in that blizzard? An hour? More? Every step she took led her to sink her boots into a mush of snow. She felt like she was walking in circles. Further on, she thought to herself. Just a little further, and there might be shelter. Some place to start a fire. Perhaps beyond the next rise.
Pulling her fur cloak tighter around her shoulders, Jingu took another heavy step forward and, as if she had stepped through a magic portal, the snow instantly vanished.
Jingu blinked and looked around her. The blinding white had disappeared along with the wind. Instead, she found herself standing in a quiet, empty tundra. Above her only empty sky, not even a single snowflake falling onto her body.
“I must be dreaming,” she whispered, looking from one side to the other. Behind her, the snowstorm formed a billowing wall that curved all the way towards the horizon. She had never seen anything like it. How big is this hurricane? She wondered to herself. What sort of magic is this?
There was only one possible explanation—she had entered the eye of the Great Storm.
Jingu’s heart pulsed with both wonder and terror at this realization. She stood on holy ground. She was in the presence of Zakar, the Spirit of the North.
Without hesitation, she took a few steps forward and plunged to her knees.
“Great Zakar!” she cried, raising her arms to the sky. “Hear your servant. If my life is forfeit, then I accept it. But I implore you, you who see through clouds and snow and the hearts of all—heed my plea.”
Her shouted words did not even echo in the silence, couldn’t even touch the wide endless blue above. But then she saw two shimmering lines in the sky, which both widened until she was staring into a pair of colossal golden eyes.
The voice that spoke seemed to fill the world and that space within her head. “Jingu of the Ameni,” said the Great Spirit. “You have wandered far from your home.”
Jingu lowered her eyes in respect. “I…I was banished, O Great Zakar. I failed my test and my clan deemed me unfit to lead. I could not bring back the meat of the Reaver beast.”
“That was your task, was it not?” boomed Zakar.
“Yes, Great Spirit. It was.”
“You did not fulfill it. Why?”
Jingu sighed. “I had hunted the beast for days. I came upon it in its lair. I saw it lying on its side, large as a hut, its legs stretched towards me and its belly exposed. It saw me the same instant I saw it. So I raised my spear to throw at its heart. It would have been so easy…” She paused.
“You did not strike it down as commanded by your elders.”
“She was…” Jingu swallowed, feeling shame wash over her. “She was nursing her young. They drank her milk as she raised her massive head to look at me. And I looked at her. She did not attack and neither did I. I couldn’t. So I returned to my tribe, empty-handed.
“I confessed my failure and the elders of my tribe ridiculed me. ‘What would have happened if your family were starving?’ they asked. ‘Your mercy would have gotten them killed. We need strength to lead our tribe. We need someone who will put her people first.’
“And so they have exiled me while another took on the mantle of leadership. I have spent days thinking of my failure as I traveled. And my journey has led me to you, O Great Spirit.”
“What is it that you seek?”
“An answer to my question. Was I right to abandon my mission and spare the beast? Or should I have killed it to feed my tribe? What was the honorable thing to do? What should I have chosen?”
Zakar was quiet for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was softer, more like a breeze than a storm wind. “To lead her people, a leader must be strong. She must exhibit strength to show she can protect everyone, that her tribe can rely on her. Without this strength, how can one brings peace and prosperity to their clan?”
Jingu’s heart sank. “I…I see. So I was wrong then.”
“Not so,” said the Spirit. “Mercy is an attribute of the strong. To spare another being, even a beast, is to show that you have a heart open to protecting all life, not just your clan’s. That too is commendable.”
“If that is true, then what weighs more? My people’s needs, or that of a stranger’s? What should I have done, Great One?”
“There are many paths, many ways to look after your tribe. When the wind ceases to blow from east to west and instead blows from north to south, the seasons too change. Go and find your season, and so you shall flourish. Even if it lies beyond the borders of your home.”
As Zakar said this, a wisp of white descend from the sky, spiraling into a point a few feet away from Jingu’s reach. She saw that it was a swarm of ice crystals, carried on an icy wind. When the crystals coalesced, a staff stood there with its tip plunged into the ground.
“Your way is fraught with peril. Take this as my boon.”
Jingu reached out and pulled the staff from its place, examining it in wonder. It was crafted from wood and bone except for the tip, which was made from what seemed to be hardened ice. Even under full daylight, it seemed to carry its own spark deep within its body.
“Go and find your answer, Jingu of the Ameni. Seek it not in the past but in the greater wilderness beyond the ice’s reach.”
When she looked up again, she saw the cloud coalesce over the pair of eyes, hiding them from sight. The storm turned into a giant upside-down vortex of clouds until it was all swallowed up by the sky. Jingu was alone again.
So she turned her feet south. The ice of her staff never melted even in the warmer places. It became a reminder of her home and her mission, telling her that no matter the hardships she faced, she could endure them.
Amidst the deafening cheers of the Arcanium audience, the warlock hurled a bolt of necrotic energy at her, and Jingu had to conjure a wall of ice to block it. Diving behind her barrier, she peered through the ice to watch for her opponent’s next move.
She and the warlock had been battling for the last quarter of an hour, with neither gaining nor giving ground. He would send blasts of dark magic and waves of undead minions, while she would block his advance with ice walls and impale his summons with frost shards.
It was taking a long time, but Jingu stuck to her plan. She knew that she always only one move away from total victory.
At last, the warlock lost his patience. Raising his staff, he began casting his most powerful spell, one that would summon a dark beast from another dimension. It was the moment Jingu was waiting for.
Side-stepping from behind her ice barrier, she pointed her staff at the warlock and hurled a frost ray. The warlock raised his staff to ward it off, but he was a breath too late: the bolt struck his arm and covered his body in frost. It would not hurt him, but it would slow him down long enough for her cast her own spell.
Jingu raised her own staff, calling upon the power of Zakar to come to her aid. In answer, the ice hook glowed and flashed with azure light. The wind in the arena began to stir, turning into a swirling gale in just moments.
The warlock frantically tried to finish his spell, anything to save himself from the icy vortex forming in the center of the battlefield. Yet he was helpless as the air picked him up and held him in its icy grip.
Jingu kept her tornado for just a few moments longer, then released the power. The wind died down, dropping a heavy weight at the center of the Arcanium. Embedded in the ground was a block of ice, and caught inside like an insect in amber was the warlock.
The match was over. Jingu was once again the Arcanium’s champion.
As she raised her staff in victory, as the crowd roared in praise and approval, Jingu’s mind wandered back to the north, to her tribe who would soon be accepting yet another anonymous donation of food and gold.
Even now, she was her clan’s leader and she would take care of them, even from afar.
Like a beast nursing her young.
-Written by Mark Aragona