Snowman of Azure Town
Cheerful candles and lanterns glowed from every window of Azure Town. It was a small and prosperous village, with a neat square, a lively inn, and a busy dock. Rising above the tidy houses was the Azure Tower, where the glacian elves worked their magic and served their Archmage. It was hard to imagine that, fifty years before, this had been a barren shore: no village, no humans, no elves, and no Tower. Now, the Azure Tower radiated permanence. It watched over the little town, the humans, and their children.
One such child, a skinny boy named Vys, especially loved to play near the mage's Tower. More specifically, he liked to play in the elves’ trash heap. The mages threw away all sorts of interesting things and Vys spent his spare time shifting through the magical debris. He found many a treasure there: broken dishes, scraps of paper and stones that might or might not have been part of spells. They were excellent toys, but he had to hide them from his mother. She did not like that he played at the mage’s trash heap. She worried that Vys would find something magical or dangerous.
As it turned out, he found something that was both.
One evening, Vys lingered at the trash heap, playing later than he should. He’d become distracted by a pile of snow, about his own height. It already looked like the top of a snowman -- almost as though someone had started to make one, become bored and left it. The lamps of Azure Town beckoned and his grumbling stomach told him it was past dinner time, but Vys couldn’t leave the snowman half finished! He found pebbles and debris for the face, including a shiny round piece of obsidian for an eye.
When the boy was finished, his short snowman had a wide smile. Vys gave his snowman a bow and said, “It’s very nice to meet you -- I’ll bring you a carrot for a nose, if there are any leftover from dinner. I wish I could take you home with me.”
The snowman’s smile widened and then it said, “Yes!”
Vys jumped and stared. He’d seen the mages’ servants, magical constructs of ice and snow, that floated around behind the elves-- but never anything like this. For a split second he was afraid, remembering the tales of snow devils and frost fiends his grandfather Palaq liked to tell him. However, this snow construct didn’t seem like either of those.
Vys tried smiling back at the snowman and asked: “Yes, you want to come home with me? You want a carrot nose?”
“Yes!” said the snowman, adamant. Something shone in it when Vys repeated the word ‘home’.
“Well… I’d like that,” said Vys. “But I don’t know if I can carry you. Can you walk?”
He took a few exaggerated steps to show how it was done.
The snowman’s head tilted, considering Vys’s legs. It sucked in a breath of ice and snow, and then another. With each inhalation, the snow it consumed made it bigger. Before Vys’ eyes, it grew -- forming legs for itself from the snow. It glanced at Vys, and with a shake, shifted some of the snow to make arms as well.
“Wow,” said Vys, looking up at the towering snowman. “You’ve got magic breath! Like the great North Wind!”
“Hmm…” said the snowman, and then: “No.”
“Not like the North Wind?” asked Vys. “Something kinder? Like a zephyr. A good wind?”
The snowman thought about it for another moment, and then decided, “Yes. Zefa.”
“Zef-fuuur,” said Vys, trying to help.
“Zefa!” it said, in agreement.
“Alright,” said Vys, smiling. “Do...ah... do you belong to the elves? Isn’t that your home?”
“No,” said the snowman, scowling.
“Well then…” the boy looked around again. “Mum is going to be mad as a cat, but it can’t be helped. I’ll stand up for you, don’t worry. You better come along with me.”
“Yes,” said the snowman, smiling again, and after a few stumbling steps, it followed the boy down into Azure Town.
Captain Dryven leaned on the rail of his ship, looking sourly up at the Azure Tower. He was a grizzled man, with a face lined by disappointments. A sometimes smuggler, sometimes raider, he’d been coming to Azure Town in the hope that he would be able to pick up treasures from that fancy elven tower.
He was about to leave with nothing. No magic weapons. No scrolls of power… The elves just sat in that damn Tower, and hoarded their magic while looking down on Dryven and his crew. To add insult to injury, the high and mighty ranger that spoke for the elves had told him not to come back -- she’d had complaints against him, she said. He spat over the side and cursed the ranger, the prickly humans of Azure Town, and the snotty elves too.
One bit of elven sorcery would make his fortune. But he wasn’t that lucky. Never had been.
Dryven glared at the emptying street by the dock… and caught sight of a walking, smiling snowman.
The raider blinked and rubbed his eyes and looked again.
He still saw a snowman, walking on its own -- with a huge vacant smile on its face. It was following one of the village brats.
“Hey, you! Boy!” called Dryven, waving his arms and hoping they would stop. Even as he did, a plan began to form in his mind.
Down on the street, Vys did stop. He glanced up to the docked ship. A narrow man with a narrow face and a coat that didn’t fit as well as it should in this weather waved from the deck. Vys waved back. Sometimes he ran errands for the sailors or gave them directions, and they gave him a copper coin or a sweet.
“Come around to the gangway! I want to talk to you and your friend!” said the man, before disappearing from the rail.
Vys considered and decided that his mother was more likely to be agreeable about his lateness and the living snowman, if he could earn a few coppers too. So he went out on the dock and up the gangway, with the snowy construct following at his heels. It bounced happily along the thin wooden gangway, making it flex underneath its weight. There were a few other sailors on deck. They watched Vys board, and came forward, curious about the snowman.
Dryven looked both Vys and the snowman up and down.
“This one of the ice servants?” he said. “That the sorcerer elves use?”
“No!” said the snowman, startling the sailors and Dryven.
Vys grinned at his new friend and then asked: “What did you want us to do?”
“Ah…” said the sailor, like he was thinking. “It looks very strong. I need to move a heavy box in my cabin. Do you think it could help?”
Vys grinned. He didn’t know if his new friend was strong or not -- maybe it was super strong!
“What do you think?” asked Vys. “Can you lift something big and heavy? Can you help?”
“Yes!” said the snowman and Vys caught sight of that happy glow he’d seen when he said ‘home’ when he asked if it could help. The boy couldn’t help but smile.
The sailor walked the boy and the snowman to the cabin at the end of the ship and opened the door. Beyond, a fire heated the cabin, and there were indeed a number of large boxes inside. The snowman slowed its broad gait when it saw the fire -- hesitating in the doorway.
It looked down at Vys, smile sagging. The boy glanced at the warm cabin and reached up to touch the snowman’s arm.
“You don’t have to,” he said. “If you don’t want to.”
The corners of its pebble mouth came up again, lifting with relief.
“Get in!” yelled Dryven, and he slammed the door on the snowman. The snowy construct thrust out an arm, trying to stop him -- but the door closed and its arm fell to the deck as a heap of ordinary snow.
Inside the cabin, the snowman roared. It beat against the door. The fire was too close. The space was too small. It howled and struck the door. Misery and loneliness filled the snowman as it bounced back from the door.
A sound cut through its panic and anger, and it heard Vys outside, screaming. Its own small human, screaming.
Rage crystalized in the snowman, filling it to the brim and giving its fury a focus. This time, instead of breathing in, it pushed its power out.
The entire deck shook. Sudden pressure exploded from the cabin -- sending the wooden boards away in splinters. The fire whooshed out, quenched, and the roof of the cabin went sailing into the air. Nearby ships rocked in their berths, and part of the dock was torn up from its moorings, bent out of shape. The smuggling crew was thrown off the deck, into the freezing sea.
In the midst of that chaos, the snowman inhaled. It sucked in more ice and snow to remake its arm, pulling away scraps of weaponry to give itself armor -- and most importantly -- it yanked Vys from the grasp of the smuggler. The boy flew through the air, and landed in the snowman’s protective arms. Safe.
Two days before, a mage crept back into his workshop, carrying a pile of purloined magical scrolls. The papers were ancient, older than the Azure Tower itself, brought by the Archmage from the old Emerald Tower. Carefully, the mage locked the door and set the scrolls on a large desk. With barely concealed anticipation, the mage turned to the pile of slushy snow in a basin at the center of the room and prepared his magic.
As the evening wore on, the mage began to be frustrated. These ancient texts were powerful, vastly so, but they weren’t working the way they ought to. He couldn’t harness their full strength for some reason.
The mage began his work certain he would conjure a new and superior magical servant, but all he had managed was the large, lumpy, and inelegant shape of a snowman. The mage considered the bulky form, irritated.
“I can see you’re going to be completely useless. Too big to be a good valet, too soft and clumsy to protect anything,” he said to his creation. “Can’t you just be smaller?”
The construct tried to obey and shrink, inhaling sharply. It didn’t get any smaller, instead pulling in a teacup and one of the scrolls from the table. The objects stuck in its snowy form.
The mage leapt forward, snatching at the ancient paper and pulling it away from the partially finished construct. To his horror, the piece that had touched his creation was… gone. Dissolved. The place where the scroll had touched the construct glowed faintly with text and stolen magic, before reverting to what seemed like ordinary snow.
The mage was still in shock as the snow construct turned its partially formed head towards the table with the other scrolls.
“No!” said the mage. “Don’t even think about it! I’m melting you down and starting over.”
The construct turned to the mage and paused for a moment. Then, it pulled in another breathe -- covering itself in all the books and scrolls that the mage had “borrowed” from Archmage Pendar.
Before the horrified mage’s eyes, the inked words slid into the construct. Elegant scripts melted off pages. All the untapped power of the spells surged into the construct.
“Stop!” shrieked the mage, snatching up a poker from beside the fireplace. “Stop at once!”
The mage struck his creation and fought to unravel his magic. His spell was irreparably muddled, possibly dangerous, and he had to break it.
“Let those go!” yelled the mage. “Give them back!”
His flailing strikes scattered the construct across the workshop -- little heaps of ice and snow and tattered remnants of magic lay around his workshop.
When it stopped moving he let out an angry sigh and looked around at the mess. He’d need to clean it up himself and throw it out. And hope the Archmage never found out.
Magic could be such a nuisance when it didn’t do what it was supposed to do.
The chaos at the dock took some time to sort out -- the elven Ranger Naevys arrived eventually though. Vys always liked to see the elf -- he was named for her, afterall, because she was friends with his grandfather. She’d sent him home, with the snowman, and promised to come by the house tomorrow to check on him.
Once Vys and the construct made it home, explaining everything to his mother took even more time. The snowman waited outside, while Vys took care of it. He was forced to duck a thrown hat and gloves, but that was the worst of the discussion. All in all, his mother took his bringing home an enormous dangerous magical snowman fairly well. Vys’ case was especially helped by the way the construct had protected him.
Peace settled over the little house once more.
Eventually, Vys came back outside, into the yard behind the house. With him, he carried a large orange carrot. He held it up to the snowman and it bent down to him. Carefully, he put the carrot into place, where its nose would be.
“Mom says you can stay,” said Vys. “But that you can’t track snow in the house. It’s warm in there, so I figured you would want to be outside anyway.”
“Yes,” said the construct.
“Then I’ll see you in the morning. We can build you a snow house!” said Vys. “I’m glad I found you.”
“Yes,” he said again, smiling, and settled next to the wall as it began to gently snow.