Coldwave/Wintertime In The Void
From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Its easy to call the far northern reaches of the world names. Ugly names. Names like "Wasteland" or "Nothingness". The arctic shrugs off such titles. What are mere words to a land where such words are ripped away from your lips by the wind, lost amongst the rocks and tundra forevermore?
Even if the land were to care about such names, they would be judged as misnomers. The high arctic may seem inhospitable to most but there are creatures who move and hunt and feed and call it their home. Some even make it a point of escape from the ravages of society to the south.
Ellesmere Island, February 21st, 0130hrs local
The teleportation field hummed and shimmered, the one beacon of light for hundreds of kilometers in any direction, and Master Warrant Officer Pierre Corbin stepped through, dropping on to the hard crusted snowpack lightly. Behind him, the raucous sights and sounds of Pocket D hung in the air, before fading out along with the strange energies that brought Coldwave home. Electronic sounds replaced by ones almost as alien, but far more organic. The sounds of wind flowing with, carrying and shaping the everpresent snow and ice. The being known as Coldwave had arrived home, as much as any place could be home. Every night, Pierre/Coldwave returned to the Arctic to sleep. He'd been offered many a bed to crash out on in Paragon City, but sleep never came. Warmth and comfort meant little to an ex soldier and walking snowman.
Coldwave held still for a moment, letting the wind rush over him, and listening his immediate Landing Zone for any potential intruders, sniffing the air a little in case his ears would lie to him. Nothing out of the ordinary. Lifting his goggles in the dark, he let his eyes adjust to their new conditions. Slowly, the land around him resolved into grey focus: A small valley, usually covered in meltwater in the summer, but now a wide smooth, and winding channel of ice, covered with this year's snowfall. An instinctive knowledge of the land told him where he was on the map, not that it mattered. Up here at this time of year, most of the Canadian arctic islands looked much the same.
He made his way carefully over to a hollow carved in the ice by seasons of wind and water, unslung the pack on his back, and dropped it at his feet. Taking a cigarette from one of his tac-belt pouches, and a windproof lighter, he lit the cancer-stick and took that first wonderful drag, holding the smoke, then releasing it to the four winds. The smoke, supercooled in his lungs, dropped to the ground, and held cohesiveness as a cloud for a moment before being picked up by the north wind and dissipating. He smirked at himself, more for finding the concept of how his body and powers of cold affected things still amusing after so long, than any amusement from the act itself. He slumped down the ice wall to a sitting position, knees up, taking another drag, then extending his arms forward across the tops of his knees. It was a familiar pose to anyone who had ever spent time in the armed forces. A soldier grabbing a bit of time out anywhere he could. The eternal hurry-up-and-wait.
"As always you return, little one."
The voice of the goddess Sedna. The Mother of Winter and the Sea. The overwhelming presence of the divine. The voice echoed in Coldwave's head unbidden, eliciting a scowl from the canuck. While Her presence in his mind was unending, usually conduits of the goddess, like Coldwave, had to initiate a higher level of contact first. Pierre had thought such a procedure was standard, but lately she had been announcing herself unbidden. She spoke in Inuktitut, he spoke in French. It didn't seem to matter. Communication between goddess and conduit interacted at a level beyond mere language.
"Of course, Mother Winter. Why sleep indoors when I can have the Sky as a Blanket and the Earth as a bed? I came here today...as I will come here tomorrow, and tomorrow after that."
"You do not have many tomorrows left, child."
"I know, Mother Winter. You keep reminding me."
While the spirits the Inuit follow have been known to lie and play tricks, Coldwave knew Her harsh words were true. It was becoming painfully apparent of late, that the cold warrior couldn't soldier on for much longer. Pierre looked down at his scarred hands, and the glowing almost-finished tip of the cigarette clenched between his fingers. It wouldn't win any beauty pageants, but the body would continue for some time. In a tragic reverse of the old proverb, the flesh was willing, but the spirit was weak. No conduit could handle even this small fraction of Sedna's power forever. Eventually, the individual sparks of the Rangers, they who followed Sedna and enforced Her will in the northern hinterlands, blazed high and faded out, always replaced by the new generation of those She selected. Coldwave was nearing the end of his time as a Conduit. He had fought the Transgressors, those who meant harm to the north and its people, for years now. Still, it was becoming harder to tell where his sense of being ended, and Hers began. She had begun to speak through his voice, and act through his arms. The Elders had mentioned this was going to happen sooner or later. Some lasted for years as conduits, others, like Pierre, not so much.
Pierre was a little different than some conduits. For one, he was not of the northern tribes. He was born in Quebec, of all places, to mixed anglo/franco parentage. He had never laid eyes on the Arctic until almost a decade ago, when on a mission for the Canadian Forcesup amongst the strange beauty of the ice and snow. It was there that Sedna had given him Her kiss, and marked him as one of her own. It was through her that he had gained mastery over ice and snow. He had been tied to Her, and the land, ever since. Still, in the end, he was a conduit, body and soul promised to the Winter Mother to defend her environs.
He flicked the cigarette out in front of him, its spark quickly lost to his eyes. He shook his head, and found his voice once more.
"You've got to stop speaking through me, Mother Winter. I know you are trying to make the transition easier... but those I call friends, they do not understand Your ways."
"Do they need to understand My ways, child?"
"They lead a different life, Mother Winter. They live easily, compared to up here. They believe in happy endings. They would not understand Your ways, that all must pass eventually. They'd think this was too soon."
"Then should I not speak with your voice? Should they not know?"
"I have told those who care to listen, Mother Winter. The clues are there. But when you speak through me...they worry. They worry I'm cracking up before the end." The snowman winced as he relayed this to the Divine. Already his commander in Nova Watch had seemed suspicious. Pierre's would-be daughter had probably noticed by now as well. With the voice of a goddess ringing in his head, Pierre was finding it harder to concentrate and maintain the carefully built facade of quiet competence. Sedna's will continuously broke through Coldwave's own walls, and during those times, he acted more as She would, than he would.
There was a long pause, then the voice returned. A different tack, as expected. Sedna was known to be capricious, and distracting, like the ever shifting winds and waves.
"I have seen you do not kill on your hunts against the transgressors in the south."
Again with the killing. Sedna believed in endings, that violence solved a great many things, and that a dead Transgressor was a Transgressor that could no longer represent a threat. While Coldwave had no problem killing, and was trained to do so from an early age by the army, his time in Nova Watch proved that it was not always needed. Indeed, the watch had shown Pierre there was a little more to life than the harsh black and white of the winter world.
"No, Mother Winter, I do not."
"Why? Does the orca seek merely to wound or capture the seal?"
"The orca does... but the orca is not bound by laws other than Your own, Mother Winter. I follow the rules, and I follow the example of the Watch. They were kind enough to take me in, when others shunned me. They don't mind /too much/ that I've got voices in my head."
There was another long pause, and the voice came back, harsher than before, as if backed up by the north wind. It spoke in a tone of icy finality. "You speak lightly for one who will become Nothing, child."
"I speak lightly for one that doesn't have any choice, Mother Winter. The southerners have a saying. "Laugh or cry". I prefer to laugh."
"Do you doubt the honour I have bestowed?"
"No, Mother Winter. I do not."
"Did I not keep you alive when the creeping horror threatened to end you?"
Pierre twitched slightly, immune to the cold, but not immune to the memories of that lovecraftian monster under the ice which ended Arctic Ranger and indirectly caused the rise of the being known as Coldwave, "Yes, Mother Winter, you did."
"Then why do you resist? You will become Nothing. All other conduits become Nothing willingly. It is the way."
"I know, Mother Winter, but the other conduits were trained from a young age what was expected of them. I did not."
"The glacier falls to the sea and becomes an iceberg, child, it does not get to give its voice on the matter. The wolf rips at the throat of the caribou. Neither wolf nor caribou doubt their destiny. This is how it is. This is how it will be." The voice, for a deity normally so harsh, was almost gentle, as if providing a lesson to a confused and slow schoolboy.
"Then why did you send me south, Mother Winter?"
Pierre knew the answer. He had asked countless times before. The answer was always the same.
"My people are fishers, hunters, shamans. They are of the north. You are not. You were to report to me the dealings of the Southerners, the Transgressors. You were my eyes and my ears. You are a soldier, my Chosen are shamans. They would not want to leave their homes for any great length of time. You are used to travel and to hardship."
There was nothing Pierre could say. It had ever been thus: A leaf on the wind, just along for the ride.
"And what have you learned then, Mother Winter?"
"I have learned they are not the threat they were. Those abominations, what you call Rikti...those are the threat. The southerners, they act from neglect, not with intent."
Coldwave nodded, lighting up another cigarette and contemplating the smoke for a long moment. "Then I have served You well. Why am I still here? Should I not be Nothing by now?"
The wind shifted, ringing off the ice like laughter. "You are still of some use to Me little one. There is some small part of you left. Your few tomorrows are Mine."
"Then may I ask a favour, Mother Winter?"
Nothing...just the howl of the wind. Pierre continued regardless. "Let me speak with my own voice until I can no longer speak. There are friends I must aid for a few days more. I need time, Mother Winter. Just a little more."
"Even you have friends, Mother Winter. Even they call upon You for aid. So it is for me as well."
The voice was gone into the background once more. Just Her distant orders, calls, and cries to the other conduits ringing in Coldwave's head. He tossed the cigarette into the forever-night, and let his head drop. Sleep came quickly, dreamless as always. In a few hours, he'd have to rise, shake the snow off, and begin the strange transit south once more. There, once again he would take up his tasks as shock troop and operative for Nova Watch. Perhaps he would be able to see a few people important to him for some short amount of time before the cycle repeated once more, and he would be called back up north to commune and sleep.
How many tomorrows were left?
What would remain of the conduit once Sedna's spark faded?