Introducing Vainglory’s next hero: Reim! We begin at the end…
EVERYTHING IS GONE
The Grangor people stood watch on a high icy shelf to watch the flames swallow the winding spires of Trostan. Smoke glittered around their faces and clogged their lungs as the city that had been the heart of the Gythian crystal trade turned into the mouth of hell. They threw Gythian gold down into the crevasse for safe passage for the dead. The coins had become, in one day, useless anywhere within a hundred miles.
The wise ones gathered in a snow-dusted cluster and thumped their staves on the ground in the ancient story rhythm. With a judgmental lick of his one tusk, the eldest began the first Telling of the story that would be told and retold for generations:
“It was Trostan once, but soon it will be forgotten.”
“The wise ones knew,” they sang in chorus.
“Humans came to tear holes in the glaciers. They came to rip the crystal from the earth. They came to drink of the well,” continued the next-eldest in her shrill tone.
“The wise ones knew.”
“Our trophy-hunters traded with humans for steel,” called the next.
“The wise ones knew.”
“The city collapsed under its own greed,” crooned another.
“The wise ones knew.”
“Their ancestors lie too far to carry home their souls,” wailed the eldest.
“The wise ones kn…”
An icy blast from the peak above trembled the ground and broke their song. “Sisuuk!” screamed a Mother, gathering her kits close. All eyes turned away from the flames to look upward. Instead of an avalanche, though, what came forth along with the freezing wind was a man, his spine bent with age, spotted skin fragile as onion layers. His claw-like hand gripped a staff. Around his shoulders he wore the pelt of a Grangor. Though none of the Grangor had seen him before, they all knew of the elusive recluse. Reim, they called him, master of ice, devourer of Grangor, terror of the Kall Peaks. Though they outnumbered him by many dozens, the Grangor backed away, weapons at the ready, while the ice mage exhaled enraged breaths that crystallized into frost.
“Where is the boy?” he growled.
“His mother knows,” replied the eldest, but it was only an expression among the Grangor. It meant that a thing could not be known.
With a sneer, Reim turned away from the Grangor and walked the path down the mountainside, grumbling to himself all the way. The river that bordered the burning city flowed black with ash. Reim struck his staff on the ground and the flowing water froze in place. He shuffled over it, coughing and hacking, into the city, waving his staff in irritation at the fires as he passed them. They sizzled and hissed into frozen, charred kindling.
“Kid!” he called. “Hey kid!”
The city had bustled with trade and travelers that morning; now, only the livestock raced away from their burned enclosures to the rivers at either side of the basin.
The mage choked the fires under his conjured frost one by one, leaving destroyed homes and businesses under thick sheets of ice, by turns calling out and mumbling to himself. He stopped to roll his eyes at the mage tower, resplendent in its ancient Gythian spires, the center of Trostan’s government. The top third had collapsed; the rest was a scorched husk of its former magnificence. This, too, he left frozen behind him. Round the town he traveled, tension rising in his voice. “Hey kid, you’re late! Where’d you get off to?” he continued until he reached the halcyon well at the center, the only thing unaffected by the flames. Noxious fumes rose from the burnt detritus of Trostan, drowned under ice. There, at the well’s edge, was a small woman with her face buried in the furry shoulder of a much larger Grangor. In one hand, she held a lantern that cast eerie shadows in the swirling ash.
“Ay!” shouted Reim with an annoyed clearing of his throat. “Who’s in charge here!”
The woman turned her soot-stained face, mapped with tears, toward the stranger, revealing the singed remains of the robes of a High Mage of Gythia. Her shoulders rolled back, her chin tilted up, and though she was much smaller than the other two, the answer to Reim’s question had been answered.
“The boy,” he demanded.
The woman shook her head and held the Grangor’s forearm for support. “He’s gone,” she answered, then looked up at the Grangor’s chubby face. “Everything is gone.”
To be continued…