When I originally thought of the Frozen Realm, I thought of icy snowcaps and some white snowy plains. I don’t think I ever gave it the credit it deserved when it came to the sheer size of the realm. I had not expected it to be so… large.
Most of the folks I talked with in Vengeance Keep told me that the city of Udiria was located in a place known only as the “Gemstone Forest”. I felt, from looking at the map of the region’s explored locales, that my best bet of reaching this forest was by heading to the “Misty Fjord” on the eastern side. I had to catch a ride on several different vessels to get there, but it was worth the trip. The fjord was beautiful, and despite the chaos and evil in this realm, it was worth seeing at least once.
On the ground, traveling proved to be difficult. I moved with groups when I could, picking up the odd ends here or there to stay in good favor with folks. Everyone liked the idea of having a magic user, particularly a Flamecaller, that could start a fire with his bare hands.
I remember one important day so well… the smell of pine trees and fresh life all around me… it was almost a comfortable day. I had decided to travel on my own, which was rare, but Surfal was in a spirited mood and I was ready to cover some distance.
That was when I heard a scream deep within the woods.
Without hesitation, I pulled on Surfal’s reins and rushed toward it. We darted between the trees, dodging the various twigs and sticks as we darted to the rescue. I rounded a corner too fast, realizing too late it was a significant drop, and Surfal stopped hard, instinctively preparing for the tumble. I went over the front of the horse and landed hard on my back, tumbling down the hill until I crashed at the bottom against a rotten log.
“Well, hello there, hero,” a voice said, not far from me. I rolled onto my side, struggling to breathe, and saw a young woman not more than ten feet from where I was laid out. She was dressed in ornate golden and silver armor that was custom fit to her body. She wore no helmet, and her long blonde hair was braided so that it fell down her back, nearly to her waist. For a moment, I thought she had come to see if I was okay, but then I looked at her legs and saw a yellow ooze that was wrapped around her feet and slowly reached up toward her knees.
“Hi,” I struggled to reply. “Wind… knocked… out.”
“Yeah, that was a big tumble,” she said with a smirk. “You going to be okay?”
“Sure,” I said, forcing myself to sit up. “I’ll be fine.”
“Great,” she said. “Now, since you’re here… maybe you could help me out?”
I nodded, still struggling to inhale. I didn’t know what the ooze was, but I was confident it didn’t care for fire. I hit it with a light blast of flame and it squirmed a bit, but showed no sign of retreating.
“That didn’t work,” she said.
I was about to try another spell, when I felt something like ice pierce my foot. I gave a loud yelp of surprise, and then looked down to see that the same yellow ooze now had a grip on my foot.
“That’s not good,” I grumbled.
“It was worth a try,” she said, looking at my feet. “Maybe someone heard you scream and we can get them down here too.”
“Okay, calm down,” I said with a wave of my hand. “This is just a slight setback. It’s not the end of the world. I just need to figure this out. Not many things are resistant to fire.”
“Hmm, I wonder,” the woman said lowering her mace so that it touched the ooze. The creature grabbed hold almost instantly. She waited for a second and then squeezed the handle of her weapon. The mace burst with blinding light and the ooze monster was evaporated into thin air.
“Ha!” she said proudly. “I did it.”
“Seriously?” I asked. “You could free yourself the whole time?”
“Looks like it,” she said, stepping over and doing the same spell so that the ooze melted off my feet. “Luminary magic is a special treat,” she added. “It makes common folk like myself into something extraordinary. Sometimes, I genuinely forget that I have it at my disposal. Anyway, my name is Christine. I’m a paladin in the Order of the Crystal Blade. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Same to you,” I replied. “My name is Sionis.”
“Sionis Sepher,” she said, scoffing. “Like, the Flamecaller that fought alongside Appoleon in the Battle of the World Above?”
“The one and the same,” I said, looking up the way I’d fallen. I gave a whistle and Surfal’s head appeared near the top of the incline. He’d managed to get his footing, unlike me. I smiled and looked to Christine now, no longer distracted.
“You should come with me,” she said. “There’s a place called Birchwood Lodge a short ways away. They’re good people, and you should probably get checked out after that fall.”
I thought about declining, but then I felt a pinch in my shoulder and I realized I couldn’t quite put my weight on my right foot. The last thing I needed was some kind of injury that would slow my progress. I would have to stop for the night anyway, so the idea of a warm bed sounded promising.
“Okay,” I said. “Lead on.”
The ride back to Birchwood Lodge was taking longer than I anticipated. At first we rode in silence, her up front and me behind. My body had started to ache after an hour or so, and I wondered if I had torn a muscle or something more severe.
“You okay back there?” she asked, pulling my attention. “I don’t bite if you want to ride beside me. We can chat.”
I nudged Surfal and the beast rode up to match the pace of Christine’s horse. It was at this point that I got my first good look at the paladin’s face. She was young, maybe under thirty. She had flawless skin, a crisp tan, and the golden hair that flowed down her intricate armor. She looked like a pristine painting, and thought it was wrong of me, I couldn’t help but feel like she was out of place here. She seemingly read my mind, raising an eyebrow at me and grunting.
“Got something to say?” she asked.
“Ah, right, yes. I actually wanted to say thanks for saving me back there.”
“Well, you only ended up there because your hero complex kicked in,” she said. “I can appreciate someone who comes running when they hear someone scream. Anyway. We’re here.”
I looked to see a large building in the distance. In fact, it was much larger than most structures that I had seen in this realm. There were several armed guards with Stonehaven insignia coming our way, and I slid off Surfal so that I could speak to them without looking like a jerk. They ignored me, looking to Christine instead.
“Everything alright here?” one of them asked.
“Very much so,” Christine replied. “He might be here to help.”
The soldier looked me over for a second and then shrugged. “Good. We could use it out here.”
I didn’t realize I had volunteered to help anyone by coming here, but I was smart enough not to bring that up right here and now. I just nodded and introduced myself to the guards.
“Come along Sionis,” Christine said as the guards went back to their patrol. “You’re going to like this place, and there’s someone here I bet you’ll like to meet.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Really. Come on!”
Birchwood really was amazing. The building had been crafted out of large wood, and despite the temperature outside it was warm inside, even without a fire in the hearth. Christine went around saying hello to some of the people in the building while I stared at its beauty. Then, the paladin returned with an older man by her side. I said hello in passing, and then I realized who I was greeting.
The old mage smiled widely and suddenly wrapped me in a hug.
“Oh, seriously? Christine asked. “You really are Sionis?”
“That’s him alright,” Angus replied. “Sionis, my boy, it’s been years.”
I hadn’t seen Magister Angus since I had left Vers years before. Despite his advanced age, Angus looked quite healthy now, perhaps even more so than he had the last time I had spent any time with him.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Surely you should be back in the world above?”
“No no,” Angus said with a laugh. “Udiria called any and all of us back to the front lines out here. Isn’t that why you’re here too?”
I hesitated, and Angus seemingly understood. “I heard about your loss in the Remnants. I’m sorry for it. I didn’t know Marjan very well, but what time we had is cherished.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m not dwelling on the past now.”
“Good to hear. So, you’ve come to help me out here?”
“I’m just on my way to Udiria, actually,” I said. “It’s a long trek, unless you might have a faster way?”
Angus laughed. “The Udirian military doesn’t let people like me have the keys to the city anymore. No, I’m afraid I can’t get you there, my boy. I’m sorry for that.”
“It’s okay,” I assured him. “I’m just happy to see an old friend again.”
“Me more than you,” Angus said. “We’re dealing with a real problem here in the dalles, Sepher. I don’t get many brave adventurers out here, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t desperately need all the help I can get.”
“That sounds serious. What’s happening out here?”
“What do you know about the curse of the lycanthrope?” Angus asked.
I scoffed. “Bedtime stories from Lady Sonea. Surely you can’t be telling me…”
I drifted as Angus slowly nodded. “They’re real. We’ve seen it first hand. We believe the Yunai are using this power to their advantage. You see, when a man’s mind is warped by the magic of the curse, it becomes susceptible to the Yunai influence. “We don’t just end up with a lycanthrope to deal with… we end up with one that’s being controlled by our greatest enemy!”
“So, do we have a plan?” I asked. “I just came from the western region of this realm. The Yunai were up to no good over there too. I’m ready to help however I can.”
“Good,” Angus said, a smile forming. “I do have a plan, and a Flamecaller is exactly what we need.”