Hogarth the Mad, Wizard Supreme, and Master of the Arena crept slowly through the frozen chambers underneath the Frost Ring. Ancient, crumbling stone and black ice made for slow going. He winced with every echoing footstep and clatter of rubble disturbed, his face harsh in the pale blue glow of the monstrous sapphire that rose like a splinter from the center of the room. Hogarth’s teeth, bared half in grimace and half in a wild grin, were as white as driven snow.
It had taken three lullabies and an epic tale of slaughter several hours long to put Goneril, Crispin, and Mulug—the three spirits that bound him to this accursed place—to sleep. Their ghostly heads sat impaled on Hogarth’s staff, twitching and murmuring through their slumber. He edged closer and closer to the center of the room while Goneril’s snoring bounced breathily across the stone behind him like a great boar rooting for truffles.
Hogarth’s movements were stiff and pained as if he were deathly cold, though in truth he no longer felt the chill. The heads’ geas held strong even as they slept, as hard and unyielding as the sapphire Hogarth was slowly approaching. Through sheer force of habit, Hogarth muttered and complained at the sleeping heads as he wound his way through their enchantments.
“Games, games, for hundreds of years you wanted to be entertained, Mulug. You had nobody—ha!—to play with and so you made ME do it. Tournaments and tourniquets for your bloody boredom.” Hogarth’s ice-sculpted hand—his real one lost many years ago to one of his ill-fated experiments—ripped out strands of his thick, waist-long beard with each furious sentence. “But now it’s my turn to get,” he giggled, “ahead.”
Hogarth stopped in front of the massive sapphire, eying it coldly. His hot, ragged breath sent gouts of steam rushing between his bright, smiling teeth. “You think you know everything, Crispin, but I’ve got a surprise for you.” Hogarth’s bones creaked as his good hand tightened, white-knuckled on his staff.
“Though three against one was hardly sporting to begin with. You pale shades would never have been able to beat me—one of the finest arcanists of this age—” Hogarth brushed some snow off his furred shoulders, “—without Frostheart giving you strength.” He lay his icy hand against the sapphire, fingers splayed, and watched Frostheart’s glittering pulse send ripples through his translucent palm.
“Break that strength, and it will break my bonds.”
Hogarth closed his eyes and pushed against Frostheart, probing, commanding. Where his fingertips rested against the gem, bright-white light flared forth, like each finger was a dwarven blowtorch. Yet Frostheart stood serene, cool and collected against his assault.
As Hogarth pressed harder and harder, sweat beading on his brow, the pulsing heartbeat of Frostheart began to quicken. Rime flowed over Hogarth’s fingers and began to climb up his arm, dusting it in a pale white. First his fingers, then his elbow—as the frost climbed closer to Hogarth’s body, the temperature of the entire chamber dropped. Hogarth’s sweat froze.
With a snarl, he wrenched his hand back, fingers splintering from his sculpted hand. With a sound halfway between a sigh and a chuckle, Frostheart drew the fractured fingers into itself until its surface was smooth and unblemished once more.
“It’s not enough.” Irritated, Hogarth stared at his ruined hand and willed it back into shape. “To break this heart I’ll need dreams and promises and oh, so much blood. There’s power in blood,” he muttered. “Dangerous, dangerous. But more dangerous than being trapped here forever?” Hogarth gave Frostheart a petulant kick. “Certainly less boring.”
He turned to smile at Mulug, still fast asleep, a line of drool hanging frozen from the orc’s sleeping face. “It looks like you’ll get that tournament you wanted after all!”
Snow began to swirl in Hogarth’s open palm, icy flakes spinning faster and faster until they began to sound like whispers, promising anything and everything. Shadowy symbols flashed in the swirling depths—a flaming candle, a dying tree, a figure cloaked—and hundreds, thousands more, each flying faster than the eye could see. The whispers built, cracking past each other like a broken lake as Hogarth raised his hand over his head. With a massive rush, the blizzard exploded outward in a ring of frosty, arctic light, leaving him slumped, panting and spent.
Promise them their greatest desire, Hogarth thought, and they will come.
Goneril blinked slowly, woken by the commotion. Her long, elven ears twitched as she gave a jaw-cracking yawn.
“Good news, Gonner!” sang Hogarth brightly. His smile was wide, frozen, and gleeful. “We’re going to have a tournament! It’ll be unlike anything you’ve ever seen…”