They were hunched over the fire: cutthroats, thieves, rapists… all indulging in the heady brew of strong ale and their winter plunder. The thrall set his eyes on one of them, a hulking brute that tore into the juicy rump of its kill. The warrior’s tusks was glistening from the fat that dripped from the piece of meat he was holding… Every bite into it’s seared, tender, mahogany surface was an audible sensation that would have made his own mouth water…
But that mouth was dry; lips cracked by the fierce cold that had left them stiff and swolen. The hinge of his jaw was shot with an excruciating pain where the savages had struck him with armored knuckles. His thin, frail form was testament to his starvation, incapable of satiating his panging hungers with pleasure. They knew this as they beat him, taunted him… And once they grew weary of the torture, they would leave him nothing but the watered-down meaty broth that was his due…the only thing that could pass his ravaged lips after such abuse to relieve him from his discarded cravings.
Their only mercy to him was the warm pelt thrown over his protuding skeletal shoulders. Not an act of pity, but merely a prolonging of a life that would welcome another day of agony.
He did not care… He desperately accepted the slightest barrier against the blistering cold that made its siege on the mountainside where they made camp. The soft hide with its thick fur was also the only thing that did not augment the throbbing pains of his bruised body. It was perhaps, their only self-serving kindness. Their other captive, was not so fortunate…
Opposite to him in the crude metal cage, was the hunched figure of the unlucky traveller who had ventured too deep into the barbarians’ territory. A mage – so he had heard. Their brutish tongue was difficult to decipher, but he had picked up a few things in his long captivity. Having eavesdropped again, he also took pleasure in distinguishing the details of that hunt. They had found the stranger wandering in the blizzard. The ambush had led to the terrible demise of many of their scouts, as a wave of power had descended upon them, leaving nothing but withered corpses in its destructive wake. The corner of his mouth split open as he smiled at the thought, but he hardly minded. The finest trickle of pleasure, even if tinged with his momentary malice, was more than enough to endure another day of the game they played with his fractured spirit.
The mage was no imposing figure; nowhere close to the size of his captors. He was lean though, and tall. Perhaps more adept at swift and evasive combat than brute force. However, the thrall had no doubt that if the wizard had been alert to the assault, then his attackers would have possibly faced a greater body of threat. He was certain that what the man lacked in the physical strength, he more than made up for in his magical prowess.
A mysterious beauty and vitality still clung to the sorcerer that tinged the slave with envy. But it also made him cautious. He was hesitant to sharing the prison with its new occupant, scared witless even. They beat him for that; punished him for his cowardice and defiance. But the tales of the magi were infamous. In a past life, long ago, a widow’s woeful tales warned of their power. And if one of them sparked fear, then a group would make entire kingdoms quake.
He was consoled by the fact that those same tales did not speak of merciless giants coming down from snowy mountain peaks to wreak havoc on tranquil villages. So perhaps the lifeless form of a spellcaster was not quite so unbearable in comparison. He was sure he had become well acquainted with worse monsters that wandered through this world.
He could not help but wonder at the faction this lost soul’s loyalty was owed to. The mage’s dressing bore no markings of a guild, nor of any crest. Yet the colours of his attire sparked suspicion as to his origins… Was he a maverick?
The wizard’s lids were covered by small, icy shards that had settled on his motionless eyes, sealing them shut as he failed to stir from his comatose state. His fair head hung on the top of his cuirass, ornately engraved with the mystic symbols of the arcane. It was his only armour, aside from greaves inlaid with obsidian arteries that spiraled in unfamiliar patterns. The man was clad in dark, smoky garmets, made even deeper by the dark blue of the large hooded cloak that was partially wrapped about him – the silver trim bearing yet more of the mystical markings that alluded to his craft. His hands lay to his sides, as he was propped in a half-sitting position. Frostbite had long since blackened the tips as they curved inward in a claw-like fashion. In the beckoning midnight hour, the mage’s blue-white complexion, and snow dusted head, gave him a ghostly cast that made the thrall avert his gaze back to the laughing throng gathered by the fire.
The revelry was dying down as the warriors were falling into drunken stupors. Two had already made bed close to the blaze, the fire threatening to lick at the thick furs they wore… Others drifted to and thro from open tent flaps, settling or retiring as the moon kept vigil.
The night would be long. He conserved the bit of warmth afforded to him when he was made to grovel as a lapdog while among the circle seated by the flames, begging for the scraps and leftovers of their gluttonous feast. But as the evening drew on, the fading heat would surely make this a shivering, restless night.
His fate was still better than his fellow prisoner… The thin sheet of ice that covered the harsh floor of the cage had spread to the surface of the mage’s ruffled cloak and sprawled out legs, making him seem as if he was a very part of the icy prison.
He knew not how long he stared at the snowclad boots of the other captive, but felt a sense of unease steadily rising as he lifted his head to level with the wraith-like eyes of the sorcerer, snapped open and fixed upon him…
Startled, the slave knocked his empty watercup with a harsh clang across the floor as he backed up against the metal grating.
Silent and expressionless, the mage was watching him; pinning him down with a chilling gaze that filled him with dread as he cowered deeper into the corner of the small cell. He wrapped the thick pelt tighter against him, as if seeking to protect himself, knowing how pathetic the effort must have seemed. An inaudible whimper escaped his winter scorched throat, deadened even more by the brisk breeze that had swept through the encampment. His fear was not for nought…
The mage’s eyes were obscured by a cold, lucent glow. It cast deep shadows in the hollows of his face, turning him into an icy revenant devoid of any remorse. As it intensified, he turned his gaze to the party of hunters that had all but grown quiet from their copious drinking. The thrall sensed the palpable malice of that deathly stare, aimed at the encampment. He sensed that their jailors would rue the injustice they had wrought… and he would be caught in the throes of that reckoning.
He shrunk even deeper into his corner… He needed to get out! … He felt the bars of the cage dig deep into his back as he sought more distance between him and the caster. But there was no escape, no escape… The air was alive with sparks of unnatural energies, thickening and thrumming in a chatoic coalescence of intricate spellwork…
His resolve shattered as he heard the rigid fingers of the the mage creak open in a twisted gesture that encased a dim, pulsating orb of magic. It flashed in a spectral lustre as cold vapour crept between his fingers to fall to the cagefloor in whispy tendrils that spread hauntingly across its surface. As it touched down, frost formed in haphazard fractals that sped in every direction.
Terror-stricken, the thrall leapt with a failing strength at the barred cagedoor. Numbed by the cold and his fear, his futile efforts availed nothing but the slightest rattle of the heavy metal. Ice had penetrated the lock mechanism, and he could only pleafully scramble at feeling the cold pang of power touch his legs as the spell washed over him.
He stared down forlornly as the sorcery spiraled forth, leaving behind dark and solid crystalline shards with shadowy traces of energy swirling in its depths.
He heard the moisture being drawn from the air as the mage’s spell crept though the bars, enveloping everything in its wake in a desolate frozen shadow and announcing its rampage in a hollow, breathless wail. As it raced toward the edges of the camp, it swallowed the warmth that was cast by the retaliating fire.
He struggled to breathe as the spell left its destructive path void of any air… sucking the essence of all it touched for its dark devices to come to fruition. He tried to utter a scream, a warning… anything to muster the attention of the drunken beasts whose lumbering revelry had left them open to the forces that they had grossly undermined.
The mistlike magicks ghosted onward, until it reached the first of its quarry. It snaked up over the marauder’s haunches, slowly coiling around his body. The icy creepers dragged itself over rapidly stiffening joints. He could see the huge body spasm in the submission to freezing energies that reached for his torso and froze his heart.
The frost doused the fire, snuffing out its embers in its cold fury, and spread to sleepers that would never wake from their slumber. The mage still watched as his spell stealthily spread the sorcerous genocide of his capricious captors, unmindful of the trap they had sprung on themselves.
Darkness settled in deathlike silence over the emcampment as it was transformed into a glacial graveyard; and even the breeze had died down as its breath was stolen by the icy conjurings emanating from the cage.
The thrall doubled over as a lancing pain bit like cold steel into his own heart. Bones threatened to snap as he crumpled into a violently shaking heap. His vision grew dark as the cold embraced him, cutting a numbing swathe through limbs that had long since lost the fight. Perhaps this was another mercy… A release from the pain he had so long endured under the now dead slavers that sought once to make his pain everlasting. His mind slipped deeper, deeper, and deeper into nothingness… and as his heart futilely fluttered with its final beat, he looked over to his angel of death…
A cold end dawned on the dwelling place of the mountain marauders. The snowy flats of the nestled mountainside was left haunted by the perpetual winter that froze the vengeful will of a rogue magician in place… a single pair of tracks leading from the bent metal cage that had meant to keep magic at bay.