The story of Vainglory’s powerful ice mage continues in reverse…
A teenaged boy stood at the mouth of the cave, ice axe in his gloved hand, steel spikes buckled to his boots, furs wrapped round everything but his dark eyes. It had been more than a decade since the last daring hopeful had attempted to maneuver through the steep tunnels that wound upward inside the glacier atop which Reim, the ice mage of legend, made his home. It had been much longer since anyone had been granted an audience.
“She will kill me if you don’t come home,” said his stout Grangor companion.
“I’ve climbed scarier things than this.”
“It isn’t the climb that worries me. It’s what’s at the top.”
The boy patted the Grangor on his snow-dusted shoulder, then began his slow, slippery ascent.
When the boy popped his head out at the top, struggling for breath, he was eye level with a pair of furry boots. The famed ice mage himself waited, ripping apart pine cones and munching on the nuts. “Magister!” cried the boy, holding up one hand for help, “I have come to learn from you.”
“Lesson one,” grunted Reim, planting a boot in the center of the boy’s forehead. “Leave me alone.” With a little nudge, the boy slid back down the icy tunnel on his belly, his oofs and thuds echoing along with the mage’s laughter, all the way down to the Grangor’s feet.
“Um,” said the Grangor.
“I’m fine,” gasped the boy, and began again.
When he reached the top, he found Reim sitting by his tent cross-legged, eating lichen out of the first stomach of a half-frozen reindeer. “Magister,” he said, rising to his feet, “I have heard great tales of your magic.”
The mage chewed with his mouth open.
“I am Mageborn. I have reached the ninth level of Gythian mage discipline. I have passed the test of the Grangor hunter.”
Reim’s fluffy white eyebrows did not rise with interest.
The boy lost patience. “Or maybe you’re just a crazy old man. Maybe the wise ones tell the stories of you just to scare the kits.”
Reim pressed one finger to his nostril and honked a frozen booger out onto the boy’s cheek.
Insulted, the boy descended through the tunnels again. The Grangor sat by a little fire.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said the boy.
“Trying again?” replied the Grangor.
“Yes,” said the boy, and climbed again.
This time, he knelt in the snow before the ice mage. He unwrapped the furs from his head and pressed his face into the puffy new snow on the ground. “Magister,” he said, his words muffled, “I read about what happened to your son. Please help me to avoid his fate.”
Reim ignored him and went about his day. He gathered meat from his traps and snares. He ate. He napped. At sunset, he kicked the boy on his shoulder. “You want hypothermia?” he yelled in the deaf way of old men. “Come inside, you idiot!”
In a tent made of Grangor skins and tusks, Reim waited until the boy’s teeth stopped chattering.
“What’s your name!”
“Samuel,” said the boy.
“And you consort with the filthy cats?”
Samuel’s shoulders tensed. “The Grangor people are …”
“… are not people. And passing their little test won’t grow fur on your butt. So what are you?”
“I am Gythian. The Mageborn son of Archmage Lora, head of the war division of the mage guild …”
“You’re as Gythian as you are Grangor.”
“I can trace my bloodline back for ten Gythian generations.”
“Yeah? Who bakes the best crusty rolls on Via Lucia?”
Samuel’s eyes dropped. “I … I have been fostered in Trostan since I was four.”
“Then the servant who dumps your grand archmage mother’s chamberpot is more Gythian than you are.” Reim hacked out a laugh. “Mageborn. Bred like a dog. When Gythia finds something that doesn’t work, by golly they stick to it.”
“Your son was Mageborn,” whispered Samuel.
“If you don’t wanna end up like my son,” said Reim, closing his eyes, “don’t bother with the tenth level of Gythian mage discipline. Swab the deck of one of the ships hauling crystal out of Trostan. Tend one of those balmy Lillian vineyards. Heck, collect creature eyeballs with those walking furballs. Forget about magic, and forget about Gythia.”
“But my mother …”
“… didn’t want you, or she would’ve raised you.”
The snow-blanketed silence filled the tent.
Reim opened the flap of the tent. “Go home,” he grumped.
Resolute, Samuel crawled outside and wrapped the furs back around his face. The soupy gray sky flashed with green and red streaks of light.
“And be back at dawn!” bellowed the ice mage.
Samuel grinned back at the tent as the flap fell closed.
To be continued…
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