“Now that was an epic rescue. Glad I came at the right time, eh?” Frolick said. “Saved your skin again, as usual.”
Frost only rolled his eyes. He’d be hearing about this one for weeks on end. “I almost had them.”
“Almost having them is a big difference from having them,” Frolick said. “In one case, you’re dead, and in the other case, they are.”
“Yes, yes,” Frost said. He deadpanned, “Thank you for saving me. Once again.”
“You don’t need fancy frost powers to do good in the world, Frost,” Frolick said. “All you need is a little luck and timing.”
“What is Molly covered in?” Frost asked, pulling tangled vines and pine needles from the mammoth’s shaggy brown wool.
“Oh?” Frolick said. “Used one of my camos, I did.” He smiled, glancing proudly at Molly’s wool. Twigs, branches, and pine needles were tangled up in it. Several branches were even elaborately strung across her tusks like tinsel.
Given Molly’s size, the ‘camo’ didn’t do much to hide her so much as to give her a very strange appearance. She looked sort of like a druidic elephant.
“You covered her in that?”
“Sure did,” Frolick said. “Camouflage.”
“I’m not sure—”
Molly raised her trunk in a vertical ‘S’ shape and let off a high-pitched trumpeting sound.
“Well, look now,” Frolick said, patting the mammoth on the trunk. “You insulted her. She wants to be treated like a queen. There, there, girl.”
Molly cooed affectionately as Frolick rubbed her snout.
“Sorry,” Frost said, throwing up his hands. “Well, it worked. Thank you.”
“Of course, it worked,” Frolick said. “My plans always work. Why do you think you’re still alive?”
“Right,” Frost said. He was thankful that his brother had come to his rescue. He just wished Frolick would be a little more pleasant about it.
“Now we can get on with the mission,” Frolick said. “I think we are getting real close.”
The mission. Frostilicus nodded. They were seeking out the frost mages. The last bastion of hope was supposed to be up here somewhere in the Northern Reach. Specifically, they needed to find Hailstone Keep, the storied stronghold of Frosthaven. Neither of the boys had ever been there before, but they could trace their lineage on their father’s side back to settlers from the region.
Their father had given them an old map on a leather hide detailing the directions to Hailstone. It was a long distance off, but the boys had already made it well into Frosthaven territory. It shouldn’t be much farther now.
“Don’t you think it’s odd,” Frostilicus said. “That the Flintlock Empire is all the way up here? I mean, we fled here to get away from the Empire, didn’t we?”
Frolick stroked his chin. “You’ve got a point there, big brother.”
“We’ve faced Flintlock before, but that was back home in Capscatia. This was supposed to be Frosthaven territory.” Frost furrowed his brows.
“Maybe the Flintlock are hunting the frost mages here too?” Frolick said. “Searching for them just the same as we are. Except, of course, that they’re trying to kill them instead.”
Frostilicus paused. It would make sense. The Flintlock were actively hunting down and executing anyone who even remotely exhibited any sort of frost powers—the Frostmarked as they were known. That was why the brothers fled their home. Of course, it made sense that the Flintlock would come here too. Seeking the capital of frost magic.
Correction. That was why Frostilicus had to flee. Frolick came along out of pure loyalty to his brother. Their parents had protested even while beaming with pride.
“It seems our problem with the Flintlock is a global one,” Frostilicus said. “They are rooting out and trying to kill anyone who’s a Frostmarked, even all the way up here. But why? Maybe they see them as a threat.”
“If only they knew the truth about frost magic,” Frolick said. “As I do.”
“And what possible truth might that be?” Frost asked, tilting his head.
“That it’s useless,” Frolick said.
Frost raised a brow.
“Useless to anyone with only half a brain. Fortunately for you, I’m the brains of this family, and I’m here to look after you.”
Frostilicus crossed his arms over his chest. Sometimes conversing with Frolick was a pointless exercise.
“But,” Frolick said. “At least we came out of that little skirmish a little smarter all around.”
Frost was silent.
“We now know that the Flintlock are susceptible to camouflaged mammoths.”
“Somehow, I highly doubt that will work twice,” Frost said.
“Why not?” Frolick said. “Molly here is a skilled skirmisher. She’s seen many a battle before and come out on top, haven’t you, Molly?” He patted her on the head. Molly flicked her tail and nudged closer to Frolick.
Frost’s lips formed a line. His brother had a way with animals. It was an innate ability. Whereas Frost had taken after their father with his frost magic, Frolick was like their mother. He communed with the natural world in a preternatural way. Both were extremely rare gifts, but Animal Speakers were generally seen as harmless and left alone. Frost wielders, on the other hand, were executed.
Their family had been forced to hide him due to the fact that Frostilicus had the ability. While his father’s abilities were low latency enough that they could be suppressed, Frost was too young, his powers too raw and ripe with potential. And it showed.
Ice did funny things around Frost. It formed shapes seemingly out of nowhere. Geometric patterns wove themselves together and danced on the surface of the ice. Even glass or other smooth surfaces would frost over and weave stars. It was an easy test for the Flintlock to spot someone with frost powers.
All they had to do was bring some glass. In fact, Testing Glass, as it had come to be known, had been widely used in Capscatia to identify and then execute the Frostmarked.
Going into hiding hadn’t meant Frost had been totally in the dark. His father had kept up his blacksmithery, and Frost could help with the trade when the Flintlock were not around. But with more troops pouring into Capscatia, he had spent more and more time living out of a hidden room in the basement.
After several months of hiding, Frost had had enough. He’d also seen too many of his friends, extended family even, get executed.
Of course, Frost had wanted to stand up and fight.
To beat back the Flintlock where they stood. And he could do it too. His abilities were unusually strong. But his father convinced him to hold off. To fight alone would only lead to more deaths. Even if Frost managed to overpower a small number of Flintlock, they would come back with a bigger army and execute the entire village.
It had been done before.
In a way, Frost’s decision to leave was the safer choice, and so his parents supported him. The Flintlock would find him eventually if he remained behind. And besides, he was technically an adult now, old enough to make it on his own.
His parents would have come, but traveling in a large group would attract more suspicion. Plus, there was Frost’s little brother—Tommy.
Frolick’s decision to accompany Frost had turned out to be an extremely fortunate one. As much a Frost hated to admit it, Frolick navigated the Northern Reach like it was their own backwoods forest. Their skills complemented each other like a fork and a knife at a dinner table.
On their journey, Frost provided ice shelters to shield them from the hazardous weather while Frolick and Molly navigated the terrain. Together, they were anyone’s best chance at finding the legendary Frost Mages. Even in a place like the Northern Reach.
But apparently, the Flintlock Army had the same idea.
And they had spotted the conjured ice shelter from a mile away. They had taken every precaution when raiding Frost and Frolick’s camp, skillfully removing every bit of water from Frost’s immediate person before binding him hand and foot.
Luckily, Frolick had been away during the raid, looking for food with Molly. That had turned out to be a saving grace and the only reason Frost was still alive right now.
Frost shuddered at the thought. How close he’d come to death. He could see the look on his mother’s eyes when she learned of his passing. No words would describe the grief she’d experience.
Still, he needed to press on. The frost mages were the only ones who could teach him to master his powers. The Flintlock Empire was growing stronger and more oppressive every day. They’d killed dozens from his village alone. Who knew how many they’d execute in their thirst for power and domination. Someone had to do something about it.
And that someone would be him.
“You done with your daydreaming?” Frolick asked, waving a hand in front of Frost’s face.
Frost jerked his head, breaking his train of thought. He had been thinking about his past. Pondering his fate.
“Good, dreamer boy,” Frolick said. “Time to go.”
Frost shrugged and shook his head. His brother was a nuisance but a loyal one. “Where is Dad’s map leading us next?” Frost asked, looking his little brother in the eyes.
Frolick climbed up Molly as easily as a rider saddling a horse. A raggedy old map was curled up in his hand.
“Well, only one direction to go,” Frolick said.
“Where’s that?” Frost asked, a puzzled look on his face.