Aramia had passed the tree that looked like a Cobra Demon three times already.

She glanced over her shoulder, scanning the dense, foggy tangle of forest with her sapphire eyes for the enemies she knew were out there somewhere before she huffed out a puff of white breath and leaned against that stupid tree she was sick of seeing. The twisted mess of roots that made up the tree behind her dug in at her shoulders, keeping her just aware enough of her surroundings. Her auburn hair blew across her shoulders as the wind whispered through the trees, and the chill the wind brought with it made her glad she wore her emerald cloak to keep her warm. She crossed her arms and swished one booted leg back and forth across the frozen ground while she mused about her situation.

When she’d found those strangely luminous violet crystals, she simply thought she’d found something valuable to help her struggling family. She desperately wanted to find something that could save them from destitution, and when she saw the crystals, she knew she’d found her answer. But then something strange happened when she picked them up. She felt an energy flow through her arms, filling her to the core with a tingling sensation, her hair flowing about her as if it was alive with the force she felt pulsing through her veins. Then, in an instant, that feeling stopped, but she had a feeling of being somehow new.

After she finally stopped shaking from the experience, she tucked the crystals away inside her hide pouch. She knew she could never sell these crystals; they were too dear to her now, almost like part of her own life force. No, she would have to search elsewhere for the things that could save her family. As she thought more and more about the horrible fate her family would befall if she didn’t find something worthwhile to sell, a strange glow encompassed her hands. She stared in disbelief as jewels and furs and all sorts of valuable trinkets she could sell at the bazaar appeared in her hands. Her hands were no longer glowing, though they clung to the precious materials she needed.

Once she’d sold everything to the bazaar and saved her family, she tried her best to make the same thing happen again, but to no avail. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t make those furs and jewels appear in her hands anymore. She didn’t let it bother her too much, though, and continued with her life as usual.

Life as usual didn’t last very long, though. On her journey to the College of Irum after hearing the Call of the Crystals, a proclamation requesting the purplish crystals she found be gathered at the college there for study, she found herself chased by hungry wolves, or something very similar but more intelligent, with no real way to defend herself. She found a stick, a pitiful, withered old thing amid the rocky wasteland around her, but the wolves tore through it almost instantly. Terrified, she desperately hoped she could find something to defend herself with.

And that’s when it happened again.

Her hands glowed just like before, and a scythe appeared within them. She swung it at the wolves, and when the scythe’s blade connected, it was almost as if the wolves had never existed in the first place. With her hands no longer glowing purple, she noticed a similar aura around the scythe. Knowing what it did to the wolves, she knew she needed to keep it safe and not touch the blade herself.

At the college, she’d amazed some folks by producing what they called an Aldmor Conduit. All she knew was she wanted something to amaze them and prove that she’d gained some power from those crystals she’d brought them. She gave them the scythe for study as well, not wanting anything to happen to her by accident. She’d hoped they’d know more, but it seemed they were just beginning their studies of the crystals. Instead, an old man with long white hair and dark, aged skin approached her, his eyes ancient yet gleaming with vitality, and offered her a necklace, icy blue and cold to the touch.

“You may have need of this in the frozen forests of Lyth.” His voice was like sandpaper: rough and scratchy. “You’ll find what you need there.”

“What is this?” Aramia asked. “And why would you give this to me?”

“What you hold in your hand is a charm that houses Kelvin’s, well, Charm, if you will. A spell capable of freezing opponents when combined with a weapon. A proper weapon, not like that dangerous scythe you found before.” The corners of his wrinkled mouth lifted slightly into something like a smile.

“How did y—”

“No time to explain. Take the charm and go to the frozen forests tucked away within the mountains of Lyth. There you will find your destiny—and your name.” And with that, he’d vanished.

Now here she was, lost in the freezing woods of the north, circling this stupid tree, it seemed. She didn’t know what he’d meant by that last bit—the thought of some grand destiny for a poor girl like her was crazy, and she knew her name: Aramia, same as it’d always been.

Although the old man’s words bothered her, something about her surroundings didn’t seem right. She twisted her lips to the side as she scanned the forest and puzzled it out. No noise except the soft hissing of wind through the leaves. Frost still covered the evergreen forest’s branches and icy grass lay beneath her feet. There were the ever-present trees, and of course that damn Cobra Demon tree ahead of her in a small clearing between the evergreens. The twisted tangle of roots that made up the tree on which she was leaning was solid and supportive.

The tree she’d been leaning upon.

The same tree she’d passed over and over was behind her, supporting her.

And it wasn’t the wind hissing, it was the tree in the clearing that crept slowly closer to her.

She burst into a run, trying to distance herself from the Cobra Demon that had been closing in on her. The creature sped up as well, the element of surprise having been lost already. Its movement was bizarre, a slithering lurch as its legs, made of venomous snakes just like the rest of its body, tried to carry the beast forward across the icy floor.

Aramia realized that the cold was to her advantage here, slowing the creature just enough for her to gain some ground against its advances. She darted around trunks and ducked under branches, avoiding the obstacles with the grace and beauty of a dancer, if that dancer were running for her life.

Then, her foot snagged on a root she hadn’t seen. She tumbled, and she knew the demon would be there to end her soon. If only she’d listened to that old man about the weapon. She needed a real weapon, and fast. Like always when she needed something, her hands began to glow, and there in her hands would surely soon be what she needed to save herself from the demon. In her hands, she now held…

A wooden staff.

As she hit the cold ground, still clutching the staff, she closed her eyes and considered just lying there on the icy, hard forest ground, tucked away among the fallen needles of the evergreens, and waiting for death to come. That staff really wasn’t going to help. Sure, she could give the demon a whack, but by the time it got close enough for her to hit, one of its cobras would have already injected its venom into her veins, and her life would end anyway. She felt the cold more fully now, filling her like the power she’d felt when she first found those crystals that got her into this mess.

If only she’d brought a weapon with her, like that old man told her…

The cold, the old man’s advice, and a small, icy necklace touching her neck.

She snapped her eyelids open, popped the necklace off, wrapped it around the staff she was still holding, and threw it at the nearing Cobra Demon. As the staff flew through the air, the charm released its magic, enveloping the wooden staff in a layer of frost. It hit the demon square in the face. The beast writhed even more than usual as ice tendrils snaked down its body, freezing it where it stood.

Aramia breathed a sigh of relief. She was shaking, but the cold had little to do with it. She forced herself to stand and reclaim her new favorite weapon, silently thanking the old man who’d given the necklace to her.

Of course, that old man’s words were still bothering her. What was she supposed to find that would lead her to her destiny? And what did he mean about her name? She wished she had the answers to those questions, or at least knew where to look to find some hints.

As she thought that, a familiar glow emanated from her hands, and from that bright glow came a huge book, a tome containing the knowledge of Balor’s history, even the history of worlds beyond Balor. It’s a good thing her parents thought it was important to teach her to read. It looked like she would have a lot of reading to do to find the answers she was seeking. But first, she needed to get out of this cold. She pulled her cloak over her head, tucked the tome under her arm, clutched tightly to the staff, and set off again through the woods, hoping this time to leave that horrible tree and the Cobra Demon behind her. She didn’t know what lay ahead, but she’d be better off when she got there.