Thontyr succumbed to ravages of the plague just as dawn broke over the forested horizon, the sun’s rays prickling out from between the boughs of the snowcapped trees. Just before he died, the old ranger had lashed out in rabid fury at his pupil, his twin short swords flying in as fierce a frenzy as his old bones could muster. Keith had dodged the blows, pleading with his mentor to stop, to come to his senses, but it was to no avail. Even as Thontyr’s frail body gave out from exertion, he hurled curses and attempted to claw at Keith’s flesh as the younger ranger bent down to cradle him. From there, it was only a matter of moments.
And now, all Keith had to remember his old friend and teacher by were his body, his belongings and the scratches the old man’s fingernails had left on his shoulders as Thontyr lay dying.
Damn this plague! Thought Keith once more. Keith and Thontyr had been traveling together for years ever since (insert Keith’s backstory here). Thontyr had taught him the ways of the ranger, initiating him into that noble and loosely banded brotherhood. Where once Keith was a helpless fawn, now he had mastered the ways of the wild. Or begun to at least. Over the years, Thontyr taught him the basics in ___, and ___, imparted him knowledge of ____, and ____. Not once in all that time had they ever encountered anything like this; a disease that seemed to strip the victim of its sanity at the end. The disease had taken hold in Thontyr soon after they crossed into a region the old ranger called the Snowstacks. At first, it had seemed a simple cough. Keith prepared poultices and herbal teas like Thontyr had taught him, but there was no stopping the onslaught of the sickness. Soon, before he weakened too greatly, Thontyr himself had taken a turn at crafting powerful potions of healing. Thontyr hadn’t even gotten to drink one of them before the insanity took hold, a haunting new symptom of the disease that led to his death soon after. Perhaps if he had brewed and drunk the potion earlier, before the disease had gained a foothold within him…
It was too late now, though, thought Keith. Stripping the last of Thontyr’s useful belongings from his corpse before wrapping it in his cloak and preparing to bury him beneath the snow and ice that blanketed the ground. Let it be your eternal blanket. Keith and Thontyr had traveled many places together, learning the ways of the wild, but this was the first time Keith had ever been to a region where snow covered the grass even in the height of summer. There may not even be any grass beneath the snow, it’s been so long since the ground has seen the light. Though it seemed a bleak place to Keith, Thontyr had called it home, and Keith was beginning to see some of its beauty, its charm. Perhaps the old ranger had known his end was near and wanted to see his homeland once more after years of travel away from it.
Thontyr had spent his days traveling to the most distant points of the compass. He had seen jungles, great deserts of sand, swamps that stretched for miles on end where men lived on floating cities, underground caverns the size of oceans and lit only by the fluorescence of the fungi living there. All these he had seen alone. He was a Horizon Walker in the truest sense. Once he met Keith, they spent the bulk of their time together traveling the great forests and plains of Keith’s birthplace. But several months ago, Thontyr had grown homesick for lands of endless white, as he called them. And so they had set out, passing first through Urskein and the Winterpeaks, through Balnadadoo and across the Great Rift, and finally Rimehold, the last human city before the icy wilderness of the Snowstacks.
On the journey south, Thontyr told him of the wonders of the Snowstacks; of great pillars of ice that stretched into the sky for thousands of meters; of the Uldra, a race of fey who carved tunnels within those spires and fashioned great cities; of forests whose canopies were nothing more than roofs of snow, dozens of feet thick – so thick, in fact, that villages were built atop them and some of the forests lay undiscovered, thought only to be the ground; of the great moving mountains of ice Thontyr named “glaciers,” and the prehistoric animals who dwelt there. All these mysteries lay open to Keith as he looked once more to the horizon.
He had his bow and his arrows. He had his wits and the knowledge Thontyr had given him during his tutelage. With one final prayer over the mound of snow that marked the resting place of his mentor and friend, Keith took his first step toward the sun-prickled snows, and into adventure.