The cold was so immensely penetrating that it felt quite as though the young scholars' intestines were frigid. His teeth chattered as he pulled the ratty greatcoat more tightly about himself.

This was the first dream he'd had in a while in which he wasn't sick. It was also the first that felt quite so real. He recognized with frightening clarity every detail of his surroundings. In fact, he knew precisely where he was right now—even though he'd never actually been there before.

He was in Imrauov—the bitter cold wasteland of snow, ice, and iron-fisted monarchies. He'd recognize the tall, glistening tower anywhere, as he'd seen it often while idly strolling through the art gallery of his home town. However, the tower was much too far in the distance and the young scholar needed shelter.

After a bit of walking, the scholar came upon a large city, gray and empty. A shot tower was visible in the distance, along with a vast factory, spitting up dark smoke to poison the white, downy clouds above. Signs were plastered on wooden, jettied shoppes and seemingly abandoned cottages. The boy leaned forward to read them, squinting against the light fall of smoke-tainted snow.

"Word from the Orcadian Empire:

'Seqovia Grimweld Murdered'


'Attempt Made On Mercian Government'

Why let the St. Germaines Partake in All of Life's Pleasures?

Join the Imrauvian Army Today!"

The boy frowned, cupping his hands and breathing into them, shivering.

"Say, isn't it rather cold out to be wandering?" A voice asked. The scholar turned slightly.

"Pardon?" He asked, eyes scanning the abandoned snowscape around him; no one was there. He frowned slightly.

"Dark hair…" The voice mused. "You're a Mercian, perhaps? … Mit wem spreche ich?" The voice inquired in naturally guttural tones. The boy suddenly scowled.

"Where are you?" He asked.

"Look down a little, mein Herr." The voice replied. Curiously, the boy looked down. Snow still surrounded him, smudged a little by soot and mud. A few logs of wood stood piled against the sign with the war message. Just atop this pile of logs, however, sat an unusually large frog—one that might have been a toad if not for the more frog-like appearance. The scholar frowned once more.

"Where are you?" He repeated, continuing to comb the area with his eyes. Once more the scholar's eyes fell upon the frog; only this time, they stayed there. The frog smiled.

"Evening," the frog said simply. The boy's eyes grew unnaturally wide.

"A shifter?" He asked. The frog seemed to shrug, edging closer slightly.

"Of a sort…" said the frog, huddling under the boy's greatcoat. The boy recoiled, pulling away, and the frog thereafter frowned. "It's very cold out here," the frog said as-a-matter-of-factly.

"I'm not letting you near me until I know your name," the scholar said warily. The frog chuckled.

"Right, right… you're thinking of the old shifter superstition. If you say the name ninety-nine times—" the frog began, but the boy cut him off with a roll of his eyes and a curt 'get on with it'. The frog frowned. "Well, forgive me for being raised in a generation of dramatics. A monologue or two is bliss on the psyche. …But I digress… my name is Frosk. At least… you may call me Frosk."

"Frosk?" Asked the boy, scoffing. "Original name… doesn't that just mean 'frog'?" The scholar sneered. Frosk only smiled.

"I didn't say it was my true name, did I? I never give out my true name, young sir. A scholar of your apparent caliber should know why." He replied. The scholar only frowned. "What may I call you?" The frog asked.

"Tristao," the boy said, without hesitation but with slight distaste. "Tristao Jacqobel," he added, hastily.

"And how old are you, Tristao? Fourteen?"

"Sixteen," Tristao said, continuing to scowl.

"Now, now… I meant no offense…" Frosk drawled.

"Why are you here? Why are you bothering me, Mister Frog?"

"Bothering you? It's mere conversation, Tristao, I mean it all in good spirits… but if you insist…. Any idea what today is?" Frosk asked. Tristao paused for a moment.

"February the fourteenth… why do you ask?" Tristao inquired, on the brink of curiosity.

"Of what year?" Frosk persisted. Tristao sighed.

"What are you getting at?" He asked, crossing his arms both to flaunt his indignation and to warm his torso.

"It's twelve years in the past, Tristao," said Frosk. Tristao rolled his eyes.

"Astounding; am I to take it I should have signed up for the Imrauvian army at age four?" He asked dryly.

"Well… no. In truth, Imrauov has little to do with what is to be illustrated in this dream," said Frosk.

"I—" Tristao began, irritated. "Then what am I doing here?" Tristao asked, in an odd mixture of anger and bewilderment. Frosk only shrugged.

"I'm a facet of your imagination.… You tell me," answered Frosk. Before Tristao could ask anymore questions, however, the snowy dreamscape about him began to swim, mixing and blending until only blackness prevailed.


A man watched idly as the mirror before him slowly fogged and the young scholar faded from sight. His light blonde hair hung limp around the sharp, defined features of his face, appearing almost grey in the flickering candlelight. He let out a sigh, breathing out a cloud of mist that hung before him in the air, its reflection almost ominous in the mirror.

"I thought I told you never to meddle in the dream realm, Athaeos," a calm and measured voice reprimanded from behind the blonde man. The man looked up from the mirror, his eyes reflecting almost red in the light. He smirked faintly.

"You also told me to stay out of the calefactory while the sisters were changing," He said gruffly. His brow crinkled as he brought a clenched fist to his mouth and coughed hoarsely. The man in the doorway just barely smiled.

"That was ages ago, Athaeos. This is something I've been warning you against for years…" the man said, before sighing tiredly. "You're a hellion, you are." Athaeos' smirk only seemed to grow.

"And one that will very soon be priest," He said, but his voice lacked confidence. The man in the doorway allowed himself a sole grin. "To think, you've only a year left to call me 'Reverend Minister'," Athaeos said, turning once more to the mirror. The man walked into the room, stopping to stand behind Athaeos.

"Perhaps I've even less time…" he said slowly. Athaeos looked up, raising a brow. "The bishop is considering ordaining you a year early." The man finished. Athaeos looked back into the mirror, his face unusually lined and worn for a man of twenty-four.

"Truly…?" He managed to ask numbly, leaning back into his chair. The man from the doorway seemed slightly disappointed in Athaeos' lack of enthusiasm. Athaeos sensed this almost immediately and sighed.

"Father Lusain…" he began, respectfully; Lusain walked slightly closer, as though to listen more intently. "I have been chosen by the Träumerin to protect an Erlking… in fact… I've been doing so for nigh twelve years now." He finished, looking up at Lusain. Lusain returned the look—the dark green of Lusain's eyes in pity-poor contrast to the sharp blue of Athaeos'.

For a few seconds, Lusain traced the brown circlet around Athaeos' pupil with his eyes. It was an oddity, Athaeos assumed—and a distracting one at that—for every time another would speak with him, their eyes would remain locked upon his—as though the circlet were a sort of labyrinth they yearned to penetrate.

At last, Lusain's eyes focused and he let out a weary sigh.

"You're leaving the Order?"

"Not permanently; I only need to make sure this Erlking can make it on his own…. I will leave only when he is threatened, and no other time…." With that, he sighed, resting his forehead in his palm. "My sister is coming for him—so he would collect more allies for my family."

"Which sister?"

"Antimony," Athaeos said, his tone quickly becoming steeped in an unseen poison. Lusain seemed to sense his distaste and instead inquired of another matter.

"He's going to work for your family?"

"So as to pay off the debt he owes for our protection," Athaeos said, playing with a brass button on the brazier before him. "He's only collecting allies—he won't be in any immediate danger."

"I thought you were protecting him for the Träumerin." Lusain said. Athaeos fell silent.

"… I am. Or I was…. Lusain, surely you realize the reasoning for my actions? Family comes before religion, in my opinion. The Träumerin exists in books… in mirrors… my family exists before me—where I can see them. If things continue as they have been, I will have very little family to see anymore." Athaeos unbuttoned his Inverness slowly, continuing to look in the mirror.

"No," he said firmly, after only a moment's pause. "No, let him collect allies—God knows how we need them. We'll pay him for his time—with gold, with land… even though he still owes me for watching him these past twelve years—"

"…The Erlking is the trionfi, is he not?" Lusain asked. Again, Athaeos fell silent.

"The trionfi…" he muttered, as though mulling it over.

"The Träumerin—the only reason she continues to live is hope for the Erlking's survival, is it not?" Lusain repeated, his withered face all but dripping with silent accusation. Athaeos went rigid.

"And if he is?"

"Then he should not be involved in the games of your family, Athaeos."

There it was. The very statement Athaeos had been dreading.

"He'll be safe, Lusain…" he said after a moment, his voice almost faltering. "We're providing him with land… with political security… with payment… for finding allies for my family."

"Why not someone else, Athaeos?" Lusain asked. Athaeos was, once more, speechless.

"If he is the trionfi, Lusain…" he began slowly. "Would he not be the trionfi for a reason? I have a good feeling about it… and isn't that all there is to religion? Gut feeling? Whimsy? Trust?" Lusain recognized the barb immediately for what it was; however he did not react with anger. He chose, instead, to remain placid.

"Do as you believe is right, Reverend St. Germaine," he said simply. Athaeos frowned.

"Lusain, you know you are my only judge in such things… come out with it, man—tell me what you think." Athaeos said. Lusain only raised his eyebrows calmly.

"Perhaps you should learn to judge yourself, Athaeos. You are soon to be ordained… if you can't judge your own actions, how do you plan to judge the actions of others?" He asked. He waited only a few seconds this time before turning and walking to the door, obviously assured that Athaeos would have no reply ready in time; he was very much wrong.

"I take it 'gut feeling' is still the wrong answer? …What about 'gut feeling' and a tirade about the horrors of Hell?" Athaeos replied smartly. Lusain stood by the door, his back to Athaeos, just as still and silent as a statue. Then—without saying another word—he left.

Athaeos smirked, leaning back into his chair and keeping his eyes on the now empty doorframe.

"It would appear I've offended him," he said, almost smugly. His reflection watched the door as well, its unusually large brown and blue pupils glinting eerily in the flickering candlelight—even through Athaeos' back was quite clearly to the mirror. A smile snaked its way across the reflection's pale and unusually gaunt face.

"So it would seem," Mr. Onieros' voice replied, from the depths of the seemingly endless mirror.

"So it would seem."