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Winter shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Queen Snowfall had called for a meeting, and Winter is unfortunate enough to be in her council. Her very dry, boring council full of stuffy dragons who hold their heads at an angle high enough to snap their spines. So now he sits in the council room, entertaining himself by studying the ice table or staring at the moon globes floating in the high ceiling.

He really wishes Hailstorm had chosen a council position instead of becoming one of Glacier’s personal bodyguards, but his brother had been dead set on it since he was a hatchling. Speaking of whom, he glances at Hailstorm standing stock-still in perfect position behind the Queen’s throne. Of course, he doesn't notice. He hasn't moved since he arrived, the perfect image of what an Icewing should be. His pristine armor and stoic expression is a far cry from his usual self. Icicle is behind him, standing guard next to the entrance, but Winter has blocked her presence out of his mind.

Next to him, Lynx sighs through her nose. Winter side-eyes her, and she raises an eyeridge in return. They're both incredibly bored. Snowfall is late, as per usual. She seems to think that because of her social standing she can make anyone do anything, and thus can be late all she wants. Of course, she's right, but no one is going to say that.

“When do you think she’ll get here?” Lynx whispers, her voice barely audible even in the dead silent room. The two friends have a bet going on how long Snowfall will keep them waiting every meeting.

“Soon, hopefully,” Winter replies, “I’m so stiff my claws are going to snap off when I finally move.”

Lynx snorts. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, else you’ll have to hobble around the rest of your life like a penguin.”

Tundra hisses at them from across the table, quelling Winter’s tiny smile and making him snap back to attention. Out of the corner of his eye he thinks he saw the corner of Hailstorm’s mouth twitch. Winter swipes the end of his tail into Lynx’s and she does it back. Both of them have to hold back smiles.

The doors fly open and instantly Winter feels the presence of the almighty holier-than-thou Snowfall sweeping into the room. She saunters past them, taking her time to get to her mini throne at the head of the oval table. Her assistant, Grinnel, takes her place next to the throne (opposite of Hailstorm) and pulls a slate and a charcoal stick out of her satchel. She poises the stick above the slate and looks at Snowfall, ready to write. The diamonds adorning Snowfall’s head, chest, arms...pretty much everything glitter in the light, and her scales are so polished that the gems are nearly invisible. Winter loathes it. No one needs to wear that much treasure. He flicks his ear, suddenly aware of the single sapphire stud pierced though it. It had been a gift, so it doesn't count.

“Icewings,” Snowfall’s voice rings out crisp, clear, and entirely too dramatic, “war is on the rise.” Displeased mutters echo as the Icewings absorb her words and turn it over in their minds. Winter exchanges a dubious look with Lynx. “Now, now, settle down,” Snowfall continues as if she hadn’t been the cause of the disorder.

“Are you sure?” Hoar asks in her nasally voice. Every time she speaks Winter wants someone to hand her a handkerchief.

“We have reliable sources that say Scarlet’s” she nearly spits the name “followers are spreading the seeds of chaos in all of the tribes, save those shut in Seawings. And, of course, us, but as if an Icewing would be swayed by a bunch of lowly Skywings.” Snowfall checks Grinnel’s writing out of the corner of her eye and sniffs. “Scarlet herself could be anywhere.”

Winter pins his ears. This is bad. Extraordinarily so. Almost every dragon fears that name and the promise it brings, as the memory of her horrific prison and ruthless ways are still fresh in everyone’s minds.

“The other tribes are scared, and that means they’ll start tearing each other apart to find that savage Skywing,” Snowfall says arrogantly. “Of course, we know Scarlet couldn’t possibly be here, so we don’t have to get involved. All we need to do is send some extra guards to the border. Agreed? Yes? Good.” She stands up and rearranges her gaudy necklace. Moons, Winter hates when she does that. She’d summon them all to an ‘important meeting’, arrive an hour late, and then present an argument and resolve it herself. Others look like they wanted to argue - including Winter - but none of them want to openly disagree.

“They’d drag us into the war whether we wanted to or not,” Lynx suddenly snaps, rising as well. “We can’t assume that we’re safe here. The Great Ice Wall won’t keep them out forever. Once they figure out how it works they’ll get past our defenses and attack. A few ‘extra guards’ won’t stop them.” The council gapes at her, then their heads swiveled to watch Snowfall’s reaction. To be honest, Winter is just as shocked. He has half a mind to tug her back into her seat.

Snowfall bristles and hisses, “Our Ice Wall won’t fail.” She glances at the skeptical faces around the table, clears her throat, draws herself up, and says haughtily, “Even if it did, the other tribes would freeze to death before they got close to us. We’re perfectly safe here.” Lynx flounders for a response. The council members snicker to each other and roll their eyes. Winter’s anger boils over. Screw these egotistical worms, he can't let Lynx stand alone.

“What about the lower towns?” He asks, getting up to face Snowfall with cool dignity. “Will you let your innocent subjects be slaughtered? They can’t all fit up here. We’d run out of resources before the month is up, and then our talon would be forced. Lynx is right. We’d be dragged into the war no matter what.” Out of the corner of his eye he sees Lynx stare at him with pure gratefulness, then turn to fix Snowfall with an equally as challenging glare. In that moment Winter feels more powerful than he has in his entire life.

“He’s right,” Frost mutters.

“We can’t let commoners up here,” Tundra hisses.

“But we can’t let them die,” Spruce argues.

“Our Queen would never let that happen,” The ever-loyal Valko points out. “Right..?” Once again the pressure is on Snowfall. This time she's the one scrambling for words.

“Fine,” she grinds out, livid. She sits back down with controlled slowness, like she's holding back one of her famous temper tantrums from their dragonet days. It's not unlikely. “What do you suggest?”

Winter almost smirks at her squirming. It's killing her to ask for their opinions, and it feels amazing. He nods to Lynx, waiting for her answer.

“We need alliances,” Lynx says firmly, settling in her chair. Winter does the same.

“Are you suggesting a peace treaty?” Tundra says indignantly, in the tone of voice Winter loathes that makes you instantly feel like an idiot.

“We need strong allies if we’re to stay out of such things,” Spruce says.

“If this so-called war even happens,” Tundra snaps.

“Who would you suggest?” Winter asks Lynx, resolutely ignoring his mother.

“The Sandwings,” she says without hesitation. “They’re the most powerful tribe on the continent.”

“Outside of us, of course,” Snowfall says, narrowing her eyes.

“Of course,” Lynx agrees easily enough, but her expression says otherwise. Lynx is more self aware than any of the Icewings here. Winter admires that about her, although he still has to disagree, if only a little. Yes, the Sandwings have a powerful army, but their tactics are...subpar...if the library scrolls are anything to go by. Icewings are still the best tribe. No one comes close to their skills and strategy.

“They share around eighty-nine percent of our border, have great tactical advantages, and offer ample protection. They have an expansive treasury as well,” Lynx continues, throwing in that last bit for appeal. It works. Snowfall shifts in her seat and resettles her wings, gears turning in her condescending little brain.

“Alright,” Snowfall says slowly. “I suppose we could manage sending a small letter.” She raises her chin and sniffs. “They’ll be honored to have us give them such a generous offer.” She smirks, which totally wasn’t worrying.

“What about the Skywings?” Halibut says out of the blue. He wears an expression of near desperation, and Winter has to scoff. This dragon has been mooning after Snowfall since they were in the third circle, not that the Queen ever noticed. He's constantly vying for her approval.

Queen Snowfall swivels her head to glare at him. “That’s a stupid idea. The very dragons we’re preparing to defend my kingdom from? No, the Sandwings will do just fine.” She glitters menacingly at her council as Halibut deflates into a miserable puddle. The Queen gathers her wings and chuckled, “It should be very, ah...interesssting.”

-

“That was terrifying,” Lynx admits once they're alone in the twisting hallways of the palace.

“It certainly wasn’t the best feeling,” Winter agrees. “Yet it was sort of..”

“Exciting?”

“Exciting.” Winter smirks. “I’m surprised she didn’t slice your face off.”

Lynx barks a laugh. “Again, with the faces! Honestly, so was I. If you hadn’t backed me up I’m sure she would have.”

Winter clicks his tongue. “What would you do without me?”

“Take your place, probably.” She ducks his halfhearted swipe, snickering.

“You wound me.”

“Isn’t that the point?” They share a short laugh - very short, as they round the corner and Tundra is standing right there. The two friends instantly snap to attention. To Winter’s surprise, Halibut is there as well, and by his awkward expression the two had been in conversation. How odd.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Tundra sneers, her dark eyes boring into his own.

“Yes ma’am,” Winter and Lynx say in unison before carefully edging past the uncomfortable situation. Several hallways later they allow themselves to relax - well, Lynx does. Winter can't shake the rigidity. All of his previous mirth had been wiped away.

“That was weird,” Lynx says with a glance behind them. She shakes her head, spikes clattering softly. “Whatever. Hungry?”

“No thank you,” Winter says politely, though somewhat distantly, “I’m turning in for the night. Until tomorrow, Lynx.” Before she can protest he branches off down the hallway that leads to a few more hallways, and those lead to the council’s personal rooms. Winter doesn't relax until the door has closed behind him, and not for the first time he thanks that privilege. Doors. A true blessing.

Snowflakes flutter down in thick currents through the walls, matching what he sees out the window. A perfect flurry. Just enough to muddle the view through the semi-translucent structure of the palace. Though there is enough ice between him and others to prevent easy viewing, on a clear day one can still see the blurry shape of a dragon walking past. Or sleeping nearby. At times he almost misses his old home where he and his family had lived in the outer rooms of the palace, which had much thicker walls. Then he thinks of their cold stares.

No. He shakes himself. Thinking like that is stupid - they raised him to be a strong and resilient Icewing of the highest standard. He should be grateful. He is grateful. Winter has earned his place in the castle after a lifetime of fighting for it, and as a result he has a say in what happens in the kingdom. That is enough. This is enough.

Winter sighs as he sits by the window and lays his head on the sill, feeling the snow whisk over his scales. He closes his eyes and sighs again.

This is enough.