The man in the blue armor leaned against the wall of the stadium and heaved
a sigh of relief. Around him, the crowd leapt to its feet and roared its approval.
In the center of the stadium, glinting in the midday sun, was a giant mountain of ice.
And, frozen in the center of the ice like some ancient mammoth, was a volcano.
From its crater hung a great frozen plume of ash, the particles catching
the light and glittering.
The crowd cheered, but it wasn't over yet. Across the stadium, the man in red
armor climbed to his feet and leapt into the air on a plume of flame. It was
stupid. Anyone could see that this fight was over. He'd played his best hand,
and he'd lost. But sometimes a man listens to his pride, rather than his reason.
Blue looked up and grinned. As his opponent rose over the glacier,
he charged forward and slammed his mace hard onto the ice. There was a
thunderous crack, and then the entire glacier exploded upwards.
For a few seconds, Red was hidden by a rising hail of frozen debris, and then
the debris cleared and his body could be plainly seen falling from the sky.
It hit the icy ground with a crunch, and did not move.
The crowd went wild.
The blizzard raged on, drifts of billowing snow turning the darkness of night
into a wet, pitch-black tar. The Blueberge farm sat in the middle
of this howling mess, and most of the Blueberge family huddled around their
fireplace. The flames crackled and jumped, but only barely managed to keep the
Young Sarah Blueberge, because she was at that age where a girl never listens to
what her parents say, sat alone by the window. But, because Sarah wasn't stupid,
she was also wrapped in several thick blankets.
She blinked. Hey... was that a person coming through the storm?
Papa Blueberge didn't bother to turn. "Don't be silly girl, nobody would travel
through a storm like this."
After a while there was a tapping at the window.
A young man pressed several coins up to the window, and smiled sheepishly at
the family inside.
Layton sneezed and, without thinking, moved to blow his nose on the blankets,
then stopped. Sarah was staring at him. He coughed nervously and instead produced a handkerchief.
"I don't believe you, you know." Sarah said.
Layton nodded absently. Boy that fire felt great!
"Nobody walks from Konis to Gerb. It's more than a hundred miles, you know."
"... Well, Miss... er... Blueberge, I did have a horse."
"And? Where is it?"
Layton shifted a little uncomfortably. "I... was allergic to it."
"Ha! Now I know you're lying. Nobody can be allergic to horses, you know."
Sarah said with the smug knowledge of a ten-year old.
"I guess I'm nobody then, Miss?" Layton's smile slowly faded when Sarah failed
to laugh at his joke. "Um..."
Mama Blueberge coughed. "Well Mr... uh... Well Layton, I guess you're hardly
to blame. A storm like this, at this time of year! Nobody could have seen
This seemed to make Layton even more uncomfortable. He fidgeted a little.
"Really? Uh... Yeah. Right, ma'am. Nobody."
The silence that followed was punctuated by metallic clinks and the sound
of Papa Blueberge counting under his breath.
"Well... I'm warmed up now, and it's getting pretty late so I guess if you
don't mind I'll be heading off to bed now. Thank you very much for your
"W-Well, Mr... Layton, we don't really have any spare rooms but you're
welcome to sleep on the floor. Let me go get some more blankets for you."
Mama Blueberge blinked. "Papa, is something wrong?"
"I mean... No, dear, the boy can use Sean's old room."
"Sean's room?" Mama looked angry, all of a sudden. "Sean's room? You
want to give him Sean's room? We agreed never to-"
"One thousand narii."
"-open that room -- what?"
"One thousand narii. That's how much he gave me."
"O-one... thousand...? Are you...?"
Layton smiled a little sheepishly. "It's all right, it's just how much
I was given for the horse, so you don't have to make a fuss about it."
"One moment, please, Mr... uh, Layton. I need to have a moment with my wife."
Layton stood awkwardly by the fire as the elder Blueberges whispered to
one another. After a while, Sarah Blueberge kicked him sharply in the shin.
"You can't have Sean's room, you know" the girl said. "Mama wouldn't
let anyone go into Sean's room."
"W-well, you know, the floor is fine, I mean - "
"No! I insist!" said Mama Blueberge suddenly. "You must have Sean's room."
"Really, it's all right sir, I -"
"Now look, Layton," said Mama, "we're good, honest folk. What will other
people say if we let a nobleman like you pay us a thousand narii and then
force you to sleep on the floor like a common animal? There's a little
heater in Sean's room, I'll go and light it up for you."
"Th-th-" Layton sneezed. "Um, thank you."
"Have you had anything to eat yet, boy?" said Papa to Layton, and then "Ow!"
This last word was addressed to Sarah, who had kicked her father sharpy in the shin.
"You can't let him into Sean's room! What if Sean comes back and finds
someone in his room? He's gonna be soooo mad!"
Papa gave Sarah a sharp look and Layton a sheepish grin. "Don't worry about
it Layton, it's quite all right."
Layton smiled uneasily as Papa gave his daughter a stern, whispered scolding
in the corner of the room, ending with a few smacks to the head that seemed
to have no effect on the little girl.
"Layton! I got the fire started, you can come up now!" Mama called from
As Layton moved to climb the stairs, he felt somebody's hand grab at his
"Don't go up! That's Sean's room, not yours!"
Papa Blueberge laid a hand on Sarah's shoulder and with some force managed
to lead her away. "Sorry about that, kids eh?"
Layton nodded weakly. "Aha... yeah... Uh, thank you."
"Hey it's all right. Besides, us Rendians have to look out for one another,
right boy?" Papa slapped Layton playfully on the shoulder.
"Are you going to betray me too?"
Layton blinked. "Wha - no! Never!"
"The Rendians are rebelling too, you know."
"Yes, but... Well, Empress, I've been in Rane for so long that, well, you
know..." Layton smiled sheepishly "It's hard to think of myself as Rendian,
anymore. A-and, of course, you and your family have always treated us well,
so I wouldn't-"
There was a crash and the far wall collapsed.
"I found her! The Empress' kid is in here!"
The Empress turned to face the intruder, a shortsword held clumsily in one
hand. "Don't come any closer! Or... or else!"
"Hah!" the intruder glanced at Layton. "You're a Rendian boy, aren't you?
Good work keeping her here. I'll put in a good word for you with the general."
"I knew it!" The Empress turned tear-filled eyes to the young Rendian. "I
knew it! Well go on then! Go claim your prize! See if I care! I don't need
you anyway... You jerk!"
She whirled suddenly and leapt at Layton, sword outstretched.
In one smooth (in every sense of the word) movement Layton plucked the
sword from the Empress' hand, pressed her closer and planted a kiss on
The Empressed blinked in surprise.
"Hey now boy, she's a pretty lass but the general doesn't want her touched.
I'll have you let go of her. Now, please."
Layton looked at approaching man. When Layton spoke, there was more
maturity in his voice, more confidence, it was less like the
voice of a young boy, and more like the voice of a seasoned veteran.
"Sergeant Boole, is it? I went to some of your speeches in Central Square.
You don't seem like a bad person. This is going to sting a little bit, but
you won't develop frostbite for another two or three hours, at most. They
should be able to get you out by then."
A blue glow wrapped around the boy and the room suddenly got a lot colder.
Layton held out his hand, and suddenly the sergeant was encased in a block of
ice from the neck down. The cold deepened, and the corridor behind the
Sergent also froze, trapping two more approaching rebels.
Over the protestations of the frozen man, Layton froze a section of
floor and kicked it hard, creating a hole just large enough for the
two children to escape.
"Come on! Let's go."
Layton and the Empress dropped to the floor below. After a few moments,
there was a sneeze.
Layton sat cross-legged before the heater. The warmth was quite soothing,
and he stayed still for a while as strange expressions played across his face.
Suddenly, Layton sneezed. "Damn..."
Sniffling, Layton closed his eyes. Mama was right in one regard, a storm
this bad shouldn't have come this early in the winter. Not here, at least.
With his eyes closed, Layton could see the lines more clearly. Cold currents,
they were called. Thin blue waves in the air that flickered this way and that.
He'd been taught, way back in caster school, that each Elemental power had
its own representation in the Aether, the space between dimensions that only
some minds could see.
Flamecasters, for example, saw floating red sparks. And when they gathered the
sparks up, they got fire. More sparks create a bigger fire.
Stormcasters saw some sort of purple grid. By connecting points, they could
send blasts of electricity from one position to another. Or something like that,
Layton never did quite get the hang of Stormcasting.
Layton was a Coldcaster. He saw, in his mind's eye, thin lines of blue that
represented 'cold.' Actually, this was a lie. There was no such thing as 'cold'
energy, merely an absence of heat. What a Coldcaster saw was the potential
for heat to be drawn away. Combine this with a little water creation and
some air manipulation, and you had, in Layton's biased opinion, an effective
and powerful skill.
The rest of the world, of course, begged to differ. The Coldcasters were looked
down upon. After all, fire and lightning could destroy but cold was... merely
an inconvenience. Right?
Layton sneezed. The blue lines danced a little and subsided.
He was getting side-tracked. What was he looking for... Ah. There.
Out of the corner of his mind, Layton felt an unnatural cluster of blue
squiggles off in the distance.
Somebody was messing with the weather.
The blue lines pulsed, and outside the winds howled ever louder.
Layton sneezed. It was a pretty small sneeze, all-in-all, and it
wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't been standing right before
the Empress, and it wouldn't have been so terrible if the Empress
wasn't in mid-sentence with her mouth wide open.
But, Layton had to admit, the Empress was properly raised, if
nothing else. She totally ignored the sneeze, worked through
the rest of her sentence, placed the amulet around Layton's neck
and paused only once to shoot Layton a quick look of pure venom.
Her Holiness the Second Empress of Rane stepped back and the
Vicar continued his long-winded speech.
Inside his head, Layton heard the voice of the Empress, saying
"Layton! That was the most embarrassing and disgusting thing
you've ever put me through! Do you have any idea...! Ooooh!
When I get my hands on you...!!"
The look in the Empress' eyes made Layton cringe.
"And pay attention!"
Layton blinked. Somebody had just asked him a question. "Huh?"
The Vicar shot Layton a dirty look. "I said, do you, champion of the
Zodiac tournament, accept the uneffable Judgement of the Pantheon
and swear to uphold the decrees of the Holy Ranan Empire as the
Hundredth Star of Rane?"
"Oh, uh, yeah, yeah sure." And then, because the Empress was giving
him a dirty look, Layton cleared his throat and said, in a deep,
clear voice that resonated through the stadium "I swear, upon the
Judgement of the Pantheon and under the eyes of Rane herself, that
I will uphold the decrees of the Ranan Senate..."
"Ha! That's a good one," the Empress said in Layton's head.
"... that I will defend the honour of the Ranan people..."
"And what will you do with your other hand, Layton dear?"
"... and that I will bring divine retribution upon the enemies
of the Holy Ranan Empire!"
"Bullshit." The Empress gave Layton a fleeting smile. He grinned
"Very well. Kneel. As commander of the Hundred Stars, I hereby grant
you authority as one of the highest agents of the Holy Ranan
Empire." The Vicar brought one heavily ringed hand down on Layton's
"And as Vicar of Rane," he continued, "I decree that from this day
forth you shall be known only as Layton the Winter Storm, the
Hundredth Star of Rane!"
Layton couldn't help but smile, and he felt a warm glow spread
throughout his body. This was his moment, his achievement,
and not even a sarcastic "Layton the Blizzard sounds so much
cooler" from the Empress could have dampened the mood.
He'd done it. The first cold mage-knight to ever become a Star.
And, on this momentous occasion, as the crowd cheered and
he reached out to claim the ceremonial staff of the Hundredth Star
and the not-so-ceremonial mace of the Winter Storm, Layton sneezed.
Commander Vashal stood on the prow of his ship and watched his
men unload into the freezing surf. It had taken them more than a month
of hard sailing to get to the West of Rane. They'd lost twelve men
along the way, including Vashal's best Lieutenant, God bless his
But it was the only way. They couldn't just march through the
entire Holy Empire of Rane, after all.
Not yet, at any rate.
Vashal pulled his cloak tighter around himself and walked toward
his landing boat. The campaign ahead would be long and hard,
doubly so because of the cold to which Vashal and his men were unaccustomed.
Vashal's face contorted as the general triumphed over a sneeze.
He winced at the effort.
Damn this cold.