Due west of the Etherian Mountains, in the southern regions of the Kingdom of Teresco, there was an area known as the High Tops. This was a wild place – even by the standards of that desolate, spell-ridden kingdom – and uninhabited save for a few goats and the relics of forgotten religion. Broad, semi-circular valleys cut the land, separating the hills that stood like great rising fists of stone. These valleys were riddled with fast streams and their edges draped with many tiny spumes of waterfall. Bracken grew thick in the valleys and heather grew fast against the stone.
It was early spring, and the wind channeled down the valleys buffeted the ears as if in malice. Again, as if in recompense for this ill-treatment, the wind also brought with it the delicate scents of heather, and the pleasing songs of dactyls and curlew. What the landscape of the High Tops took in hostility, it repaid in beauty.
In one particular valley, far overhead, there soared a bird, in appearance much like that of an eagle, though decidedly larger. The creature bore the brown feathers and yellow crown of the Mesperiman roc. Its breed were named for the angel Mesperimus who – it was said – had once come down from heaven to strike the Giants Etherium into stone. The Giants Etherium were – again, it was said – titanic monsters had made it their sport to roll great boulders out across the Kingdoms of Men. They had done so in the spirit of fun, and had kept tally of the destruction each had wrought upon mankind. It was said that the broad valleys of the High Tops, curved like the lower part of the letter U, were channels carved by these boulders as they rolled towards the towns and cities of that antique age.
The punishment the angel Mespirimus inflicted upon the giants was to transform them into rock, whilst retaining their capacity for thought and feeling. So that they were doomed to weather away, dying slowly over thousands of years. The glassy orbs that the giants had cast out across the Kingdoms of Men were shattered into crystals that had then sunk beneath the earth. This was rumored to be the source of Teresco’s uncommon mineral wealth, and – the crystals naturally being of a thaumaturgic nature – explained both the number and uncommon power of its magical practitioners.
And so stood the Etherian Mountains, out to the east, casting their rapidly diminishing shadows across the Tops. It was early morning, and the sun now shone down the valley, having arisen over the Etherian Mountains a mere hour ago. Great prisms of light lanced down through the morning mists, abolishing them like the Angel Mesperimus was said to have abolished the Giants Etherium.
The bird whose namesake had thwarted the giants now scanned the valley for the very small things it sought to eat. It knew, in a dim and birdlike manner, that it ought to be heading west with all speed, but it still needed sustenance. Its gaze detected movement, on one of the paths running alongside the valley.
What the roc saw there it judged too dangerous to be worth attacking, so it ignored it. The bird was only a juvenile, and had many decades yet to go before it grew to its full size. There would be easier prey elsewhere in the valley.
Whilst we may concur in some respects with the roc’s judgment, we shall not ignore what it saw, for what it saw was a young woman, marching up the side of the valley. We shall not ignore her because she is the subject of our story, and this seems as good a time as any to begin it.