” …the properties of the stone. Have you tested it before?” asked the mage, as he carefully turned the precious mineral in his hand.
“Oh no, no. Certainly not. That would besmirch the quality and consequently affect its value…” Answered like a true swindler.
Did the man really believe the scripts he was selling to potential buyers? The mage wondered if anyone in this sordid little market town had a scrap of honesty as he marveled at the iridescent purple sheen of the rock crystal.
He was certain it was genuine though. He had only ever seen stones such as these on rare occasion, enough to solidify its authenticity and to know what flaws to look out for. It was a rarity among collectors, seers, and spiritualists alike. He was just surprised to find it among the trinkets and oddities of an eccentric wizard-merchant who hardly knew the value of his own items. Besides, if the man had known the true purposes for which the stone could be used, his answer would have been different. Any power that lay stored beneath its shining surface would increase its value (at least magically), not mark it down. Wizards were many things… but their greed for more magic was a trademark of their craft. Any working spell was, in part, only as good as the amount of magic channeled behind it. And such artifacts had unique potential in storing large amounts of such power. “I’ll take it. Tell me the price.”
“The item is priced in gold..”
“Good. How mu–“
“But for those who dabble in the arcane, a spell shall be their price…”, said the merchant, cunningly flashing a smile.
Of course, the mage thought indignantly. After all, it was not as if the trader had a lack of gold; his teeth were a fine display of his personal riches.
The merchant handed him a blank piece of exquisite parchment. Casting a look at the trader, the mage took the piece from him as he heavily sighed. The greed of wizards, he thought, it will be the end of me… With a swift flick of his hand, a flurry of small coruscating symbols flashed into existence. Mid-air, the runes unscrambled themselves, and landed on the parchment to sear into its rich surface in gold script. As the mage finished his incantation, he handed the spell back to the trader who was more than pleased by the whimsical display. He eagerly grabbed at his due payment, immediately stowing it among the folds in his own robe. “A pleasure…”, he exclaimed slowly, gesturing with a false courtesy at the strike of a bargain.
The mage only responded with a disinterested look, nodded in acknowledgement, and retrieved his gloves from among his cloak to be on his way. But he felt the merchant-trader study him.
“Ah, I see the wintery mountain peaks did not wholly favour your passage, did it stranger?”
The mage hesitantly paused for the briefest moment, and then he looked up to regard the man bemusedly. How did he know wh— But before he finished the thought, the merchant’s eyes playfully motioned to the mage’s hands; his fingers still bore traces of the frostbite that had not completely healed. Damn it. Had the savage curs on the peak not intervened his trek, he would have traveled through the mountain passages unperturbed. But the encounter – and subsequent capture – had left him incapacitated to the extent that he could not ward himself against the baleful blizzards that raged so high up. “Er… yes. Well. The cold indeed offers its cruel condolences for the unprepared.”
“That she does,” the man said overexcitedly, “and she drives giants down the mountainside to terrorize women and their babes as well…”
What?! That was impossible. He knew his expresssion must have not hidden his surprise. Whatever look had crossed his face was an open invitation for the trader; who then leaned closer as his voiced lowered to an eerie whisper to continue his tale.
“I heard that an entire band of those brutish warmongers came down, lead by their own warchief… they had bored down in a rage, ravaging the village at the mountainfoot and dragging sleeping folk from their homes. Word is that they were looking for someone… or something. But then again, few had survived the massacre to tell… So who knows what is heading from the east when only a deadman’s whispers travel…” He sounded almost gleeful in recounting the news, ending off in a chuckle that chilled the mage to his core. In fact, had he been any less taken aback, he may have dealt a small retributive reply to the trader’s disregard for the dead. But his thoughts were stolen to the memory of the mountain encampment… and to the devastating spell he left drifting there in his departure… Where frost faced off with fire…
He knew not how long he stood there, haunted by his own thoughts and the harrowing information he had just come across; however, his attention snapped back to find the merchant in trade with another poor fool who would be unsuspecting of fickle deals and foibles. At least, he thought, the paltry wizard would be left with a sound piece of wisdom in that ‘spell’ he intended on using. The summoning of symbols had been nothing more than a ruse on his own part to make the writing on the parchment appear more magical. In fact, the very symbols were nothing more than stylised letters that conveyed an old saying he had once heard. His amusement at his magical deception was shortlived though, as his mind returned once more to the news of marauding mountain tribes.
There were more of them. He never knew that others were hiding away between the ragged snowclad peaks, bent om avenging their kin. But how could he? He was taken, mind and all, by the surge of power that had surmounted his conscious efforts to control it. Blinded by his own rage…
Pulling his hooded cowl over his head, he ventured on. As he walked, he again studied the crystal in his hand. The spell needed to be cast tonight, he knew. The enchantment would be simple, but effective in concealing his emerging power. And with its properties of infinitely absorbing magical energies, he knew he could keep himself in check. He needed to… the consequences of his cold vengeance on the encampment of barbaric warriors had sent their tribesman on a rutheless rampage through rivertowns. Despite that, disturbing news had reached him from other fronts. Nightmarish armies on the border in liege with a necromancer; a strange menace in the swamplands that was luring innocents to unknown fates; forests filled with ferocious, feral sounds that had not stirred for centuries… and even the sea was awake with terrors that traversed its tides.
Strange forces were at play in the world… And he felt that he was moving toward the centrepoint of their convergence. Whatever fate was in store for him, he needed to feign the force of his own hand… for now…
As the many ponderings plagued his mind, his thoughts also wandered idly to the mysterious old crone he noticed fumbling through the collections of the wizard-merchant. He recalled the way she had attentively listened to the troubling tidings of the trifling trickster; only to rush away at a speed that betrayed her disguise…