The sinking sun painted a kaleidoscopic sunset across the sky. The freshly fallen snow, draped across the heavily forested ridges of the northern kingdom, reflects the last of the day’s light. The sky grows ever more dusky with the approach of a harsh winter night. A shadow moves silently through the trees.
The Marksman’s steed trudges through the snow, a thick cloud of steam billowing from its nose. The Marksman’s breathing causes the vapor to condensate onto his well-trimmed beard and freeze, making the long ride even more unpleasant. The Marksman had received word of a hairy monstrocity roaming the metropolitan streets of a city across the water from the realms, preying on miscreants of the street. He would catch a ship over to collect the bounty on this creature.
Despite the harsh conditions, the view was magnificent. The Marksman admires his surroundings. Even though he spends most of his time in nature, its beauty never seems to grow old. A pinprick of nostalgia pierces his heart. Long ago, these rides, while still silent, were a shared experience with his father.
The Marksman, in the quiet of the hills, falls deep into old memories. The Marksman hails from a quiet, sleepy village in the southern realm. The village was situated in the valley of the three mountains with plentiful forests and streams. The only people coming and going were merchants who brought supplies and wares into the valley, but mostly the people were able to grow and produce what they needed.
His first memories of his father was the frequent leaving. His father travelled often, which would leave behind a lonely young lad. His mother tried to explain that his father was a courier for the High King of the Great Realm, Crown Jewel of the Realms. While it did help to know that his father served a high purpose, nothing can soothe the ache a son feels when missing his father.
When his father did return home, he spent as much time as he could with his son, telling him stories from far away lands and bringing him exotic gifts. He taught the son how to hunt, stalking prey as silent as a ghost. The father also taught the son woodsman skills. While out on hunting trips the father and son would compete to see who could build the best shelters, process their bounty more efficiently, and who could create a fire the fastest.
The Father played many games with the child. Being an only child, and the village wasn’t exactly full of children his age, the son’s favorite playmate was his father. His favorite game was hide-and-seek. The game usually began on walks in the woods, usually traveling to the cattle farm outside of town for meat on special occasions and milk, cheese, and butter on a more regular basis. The father gave the boy a head start, and then the game of cat and mouse would begin. Hide-and-seek with the father required all the cunning of their hunting trips and the agility of a woodland rabbit. When in pursuit of the son, the father moved like a flowing river over, under, and around any obstacles between him and his target. At first the son was easy pickings, but after years of playing this game, the son had grown into quite the difficult quarry. The son’s cunning and agility had grown to match that of his father’s.
Along with these traits, the son’s curiosity grew. The father never spoke much of his job and in the last couple of years (starting when the boy was about ten), the father began to stay home more and more. While the son enjoyed having his father around more, the son noticed the unease in the father’s face. Sometimes, late at night, the son would swear he could hear someone (or something) creeping through the house. When the son gathered the courage to investigate, there would be nothing out of the ordinary. The son began to notice a pattern though, every fifth of the month, the sound would occur.
One night on the fifth, when the son (now about 12 years old) retired to his quarters, but instead of sleeping, snuck out on the roof. That’s when he saw a cloaked figure leaving the house, beginning the single-most important series of events that would forever be the turning point…”
The Marksman was jarred from his thoughts by an icy projectile smashing into his face. The impact caught the Marksman so off guard that its momentum carried him clear off of his horse. The horse, trained to protect his owner, begins trotting around the Marksman. This allows him to right himself, grab a torch off the horse’s saddle, and move to cover in the pine thicket. The horse thunders off in search of the unidentified assailant. The Marksman licks his numb upper lip, his face was wet. It tasted of peppermint. The Marksman points a finger at the unlit torch and a small stream of magic flame springs from the end of his finger, igniting the torch.
The Marksman pulls his crossbow up to his shoulder, holding the torch in his offhand. The crossbow was unique, though not one-of-a-kind, sporting twin arrow ramps, limbs, and bowstrings. The contraption allowed for not one, but two precise arrows, while giving more range than a regular bow. It was also considerably light, complementing the Marksman’s agility. The stock sported a thumbhole stock, unheard of with the realms inventors, and the firing mechanism was a brass, hair-trigger. The crossbow was constructed from dark mahogany wood and reinforced with fine leather strips. An ivory skull adorns the front of the weapon. An odd weapon for someone chasing bounties. This crossbow calls back to the legends of a secret society from long ago...
The Marksman swings around the tree to scan his surroundings. The Marksman looks, searching for his assailant, but finds nothing.The sun has set and now the woods are dusky dark, the only light coming from the moonbeams bouncing off of the snow and his torch. A shadow moves through the trees and the Marksman looses a pair of arrows where the apparition was, but the arrow continued sailing into the night. The Marksman was shocked, the arrows were on target, he was sure. He leans back behind the tree, drawing another duo of arrows to reload his unique crossbow, when another salvo of projectiles cut through the air. The Marksman ducks and the projectiles fly over his head. He rolls forward searching for the mysterious foe. He looks around and notices his previous spot was peppered by what appears to be snowballs.
The smell of pine and fir in this part of the forest is overwhelming. It leads the Marksman to wonder if the smell truly comes from the forest, considering how he hadn’t noticed the smells earlier. A disembodied, mischievous chuckle pierces the air. The laugh sends a chill down the Marksman’s spine, but he’s unsure why. It wasn’t necessarily a villainous laugh, but a cold laugh none-the-less. The source of the laugh came from all directions, and while this would unnerve most, The Marksman was an experienced and cunning hunter and warrior. While he was caught off-guard by whatever this was, he has recovered and is surveying his surroundings with the intensity of a predator instead of unsuspecting prey. There’s a presence in this woods. Definitely not human, nor animal. Rather, this is was something that had to come from the realm of the supernatural.
The Marksman catches sight of a wisp of wintery air, around the outline of someone creeping through the clearing. The Marksman fires a shot into the icy form’s direction and scores a hit as the arrow buries itself in the tree, along with what appears to be a piece of clothing. A high-pitched whistle echoes through the hills, and the trees bend to the east as it seems that the chilly, wintery air is being sucked from the forest.
The Marksman moves to retrieve the arrow and see what he hit. Pinned to the tree was a blue and white stocking cap. It almost looked like the fur that lined the bottom of the cap was covered in frost...
The Marksman hears the snow crunch behind him and turns coming face-to-face with a being that has a mischievous look on his face. Its skin was pale blue, in fact, everything was pale blue from the color of its eyes to its beard which hung like icicles off its chin. Wait, those were icicles! The being had both hair and icicles hanging from its chin, but the strange thing was that both the hair and ice hung in a uniform and well-maintained fashion.
The being purses its lips and blows into The Marksman’s face. The Marksman’s whole body goes cold. Frost begins to travel across the Marksman’s veins, like ice on a window, until he was frozen from head-to-toe. The being struts over to the tree playfully and pulls the arrow out, retrieving his cap. It giggles, “He he he ho ho!,” and then turns. The being gives the Marksman one last wide grin and then dissolves into the winter air, leaving nothing but snowflakes in his wake. Once out of the being’s presence, The Marksman begins to defrost, falling to the ground, gasping for breath. A few minutes later, his horse trots over and breaths in his face, providing some warmth to the cold Marksman. Finally, the Marksman reaches up and grabs the reigns to pull himself up. He sighs. The Marksman would never forget the night he tangled with Jack Frost.