30th Eleint 1371 DR Year of the Fading
As we travel to the Daledrop from the guard tower full of slain orc raiders, I think back on final preparations on leaving Stokely Silverstream’s Hall: the purchase of food, of potion reagents, Murryl’s initial attempts to create a claw bracer for Bell, Decroder’s failed attempts at making arrows. Were we really prepared?
Turrel and Murryl spring the bear traps scattered about. Turrel does so to see if they might be salvageable. Murryl does so because I asked him to. He has a kind and protective heart. I can think of no crueler death for an animal than to tread on one out here and die slowly and alone. Strangely, none of the orcs carry the black ice I’d suspected might be the cause of their striking out from their clan. With Bell’s assistance, I heal Decroder’s injured ear.
We say goodbye to Osten Enok and Gunnolf Klasson. I point them in the direction of where I believe the Elk Tribe will be. Decroder gives them some gold. Murryl gives them some hay. I give them each protection from the cold for a day and a night. That should keep them alive enough to meet my former people as equals rather than weak Townsmen. I warn them as well not to mention me. At this, Bell challenges me for an explanation. I do not give it, though he offered to share his tale. Perhaps one day I shall.
We decide that approaching Baerick Hammerstone’s clan to investigate their corruption would be easier if we claim to have come across his men in the tower, slain by orcs. We sever an orc head to bring with us as proof, scant that it is.
Approaching where we believe their entrance to be, we come across another opening, protected by a spiked sapling trap that Turrel disarms. Murryl identifies the runes as a safe place with 60 dwarves. We enter and find it abandoned for a long while. But after some turns, we come to a makeshift barricade manned by five of Hammerstone’s warriors.
They are unfriendly and combative. They insult Murryl’s ancestry upon seeing his gray skin. They care little for any of our reasons for being there and only take an interest when I mention that we carry a small sculpture of black ice. Decroder had been carrying it around secretly. When Bell had examined it back at the tower, he found an emanation of Law from it, but not evil. I detected necromancy. Decroder seemed unhappy with giving it up so Bell carried it for safety.
These dwarves were quite avaricious of it and demanded to see it. After giving it to them, they responded to our request to enter their hold with an attack, believing we are there to steal more of the items from them. Receiving a few wounds in the process, we slew them, and left the orc head there in likely a vain attempt to lead an investigation to the wrong conclusion. We departed the way we’d come, not wishing to hack our way to Hammerstone against Stokely’s wishes.
We then reported to the guards at Stokely’s hall that the Hammerstone faction was past the point of reason. Perhaps, we concluded, taking out the source of this corrupting magical influence, would be the only way to find a cure for the dwarves.
We headed across Bremen’s Run for Termalaine as that was the closest of the Ten Towns in the direction the gray sorcerer had fled. I had traded with them in the past and found the people there to be kinder than the other towns. I hoped this was still the case. I noticed, as the weather picked up and a storm seemed to be forming, that Turrel seemed to have no discomfort from the chill. He claimed that he had been on a ship at sea and had wrecked or washed overboard in a storm. When he next awoke, he was in Lonelywood, one of the Ten Towns with a notorious reputation, and that he no longer felt cold, as if blessed with a permanent protective ward. He had little knowledge of who or how this happened. It seems we all have mysteries in our past.
Murryl was more taciturn than usual. He was still stung by an offhand comment Decroder had made to the Hammerstone dwarves, seeming to join in with their taunts of the duergar to gain their good graces. Murryl, having been enslaved once, did not take kindly to jokes about being sold off again. Decroder did his best to mend the rift, reassuring him that he would never do such a thing.
The storm gathered in ferocity as we traveled and I urged our company to greater speed, to their chagrin. They do not fully comprehend yet what a night on the ice entails. Just past the sun’s apex, I realized we could go no further and must find temporary shelter before continuing. The snow gathered on our shoulders and cloaks by inches and we could not see more than ten feet in front of us. The sky grew dark. Crouching behind a large snowdrift, we stopped to decamp. Then the attack came.
Silently, out of the snow came snarling wolves, surrounding us. With them, strode a beast as tall as Murryl at the shoulder, its fur pure white, its eyes cold blue and intelligent, its maw huge, slavering, and rimed with frost. “Ai! A winter wolf!” cried Decroder. “Use fire if you can!”
Bell threw a bag of food hoping this would satisfy the hunters but they preferred fresh meat. As Murryl, Turrel, and Decroder fought off the smaller pack, I cried out to the animals in their language, “Leave this place lest you all die here.” Then, as Turrel and Decroder dove out of the way, I let forth a gout of magical flame towards their leader.
Merely singed, the winter wolf snarled, “The Ice Bitch demands blood on the snow!” and launched itself towards me, shrugging off wounds from my spear and Turrel’s hand axe. It bit me almost in half and lifted me up out of the snow to shake me and slam me to the ground. I felt a cold unconsciousness slip over my eyes but then felt a rush of warmth as Burgthor and Helda’s gift restored my health. Sorely wounded, I crawled away from a snapping wolf and into the snowdrift and tried to put the winter wolf to sleep. Alas, its mind was stronger than that of the dwarves we’d faced. “She rules this place. She comes to claim it again.”
“The Ice Bitch?” I asked Fönnreyf. Irritably, he reminded me of Auril, the Frostmaiden, the Queen of Winter who wished to extinguish all life and warmth in the north.
Seeing my wounded state, Murryl abandoned the wolf he’d battled on the periphery to take on the winter wolf with Decroder. “Beware its breath!” cried the elven ranger and Turrel wisely got to crossbow range. It was only now that I noticed how wounded Murryl was. He had taken some blows from the dwarves and had not fully healed from the encounter with the orcs. A vicious fresh bite wound flowed from his forearm. Despite this, he stepped right up to the maw of the winter wolf, all 450 pounds of evil muscle of it. The winter wolf inhaled, the air crystalizing around its muzzle to deadly blue, and then it exhaled.
Decroder, behind and to the left of Murryl managed to dodge part of the breath. Still, he fell to the ground, losing consciousness. Murryl took the brunt of it. His grey skin turned a sickly bluish-white. His limbs froze in mid-motion. His armor and shield became coated in ice as if long abandoned on the tundra. His eyes that had held dreams of the surface world, his lungs that gave voice to his prayers and honor to the dwarven gods, his hands that longed to craft and create, and the heart that cared for others more than himself, froze and died there. The Ice Bitch had her sacrifice, indeed.
“No!” cried Bell, seeing his friend fall. He tore out the throat of the wolf that attacked him with his claw bracer.
“No!” cried Turrel, seeing that only he and Bell and my barely-surviving self still stood against the beast and two remaining wolves.
“No,” said Decroder in a strange tone, surprisingly gaining his feet once again. As he’d fallen against the ice, cushioned by a fallen wolf, he’d had a vision. A tower all of black ice beckoned him. He flexed a fist and felt the black ice figurine, the statue we had left with Hammerstone’s dwarves, the statue he was sure he’d left behind, shatter in his hand. The remaining life from the wolf flowed into him and gave him a renewed, unnatural strength. He stood again, greatsword in hand, looking at his dead dwarven companion who only hours earlier he’d apologized to and promised we would never harm.
The winter wolf bounded towards Bell but we fought with a renewed vigor, one of vengeance. Finding itself surrounded by the four of us, my braid alive with arcane power, the winter wolf turned to escape only to be struck down by Turrel’s crossbow bayonet. “Suck my half-elf dick,” he said as the great beast collapsed, my spear cutting its last breaths.
The other two wolves turned and ran back into the storm, howling the loss of their pack leader. Auril’s displeasure burst from the sky in a flash of lightning as the snow’s fury increased.
That show of anger, I thought, would be nothing compared to what I planned. Ignoring Fönnreyf’s warning look, I strode toward Auril’s fallen champion’s corpse, my braid swirling and snapping far above my head like a striking serpent, and I drew my sickle. A sacrifice would be made this day.