Mini Arc: We're All Just Stories
(Or if you like, the recap episode.)
Once, not so long ago, there was a man, and he had two sons. The man had spent his life in the forests that surrounded his home, hunting down the beasts that roamed there so that his family and people might be safe. But his work was never ending, though he trained his sons to carry it on. When he was struck down in the forest, some whispered he had refused to fight back out of despair.
The sons returned home to their mother, but they were both changed by the hunt. The older brother had been beaten and blinded in the assault, his eyes taken by the creatures claws. But it was the younger who suffered a far greater fate, for the creature's blood had mingled with his own. The brothers both knew that should their mother find this out, she would have him put to death before the blood that now coursed through his veins turned upon him and transformed him into a beast himself.
But the older brother would hear none of it, and in the depths of night as summer drew to a close and cold winds blew from the mountains, he stole him away, and they set off together in search of a distant cure.
The two brothers had many adventures, too many to recount in such a short tale, as they battled monsters from the forest and foiled plots in the towns and cities along the way. One midwinter's night, in the city of Kastek, the younger brother came face to face with the beast that trailed him on the roads, but his brother and a great lord's daughter were there to rescue him. The lord's daughter, who had run away from home as so often happens in such tales, joined them on their journey, and as spring came the three of them headed ever southwards.
But the brothers' mother would not let them go so easily. She trailed them south, and on that same midwinter's night, as she huddled in a waystation, she answered the door to a mysterious woman and the biggest, blackest horse she had ever seen.
"Your sons were here," said the stranger.
And so the mother made a deal with the stranger, though she knew that forces from her past, forces she had met long before her sons were born, were surely on her trail now. Together they headed southwards, and in the shadow of an abandoned fort, they found the brothers and the lord's daughter.
Now this fort was known as Jivarin's Fort, and every traveler gave it a wide berth, for once, long ago, the lord Jivarin had built it to channel a being from the world beyond, a terrible world of ice and stars. It was his intent to ask it what had become of the world and why beasts roamed the forest, but what became of him, none knows for sure. But it was said that ice grew in its gardens at the height of summer, and that strange music emanated from its spires.
That night, the stranger repaid her deal to the mother there and then, by entering the fort and opening a portal to the world of ice and stars. It was then that the brothers, their mother, and the lord's daughter all knew that they must seal it again, lest the world be consumed in cold and darkness.
The journey to the fort was a terrible one, for it stood perched upon a sheer cliff, where the energies were greatest, and the stairs were slick with ice. But they pushed on, and eventually, they stood at the very centre of the fort, where the portal lay open before them. They proceeded to destroy it with fire, but the beings on the other side fought back, until only the mother remained standing.
It was at that moment that she understood her part of the deal, for once, when she was young, she met them before. "It's time," she said, for she knew those forces had caught up with her at last, but there was more. "There was a bargain, then. There was a price. There's a price for me. Them." And as she walked into the world of ice and stars, the portal was sealed, and her children walked free.
And so the brothers and the lord's daughter continued their journey, ever southwards.
Or that is the story, at least.