Fjalarr woke that day after a terrible night’s sleep – much like many before, too many he thought. He sat up, thinking about the stressful months.. Or is it a year by now? Hard to tell, as life in his hometown, the underground halls of Khog has been quite different from when he was just a little lad. He stood up and looked around. In his own room there were six other people hunched in their bedsheets, still sleeping, too tired and not willing to wake up. Fjalarr had work to do, though, so he roused himself as soon as he felt somewhat rested. He took his backpack – after thoroughly checking if nothing’s missing – and walked out.
He stepped out and held himself for a second looking around the living quarters with so many refugees around. Not only dwarfs, but humans and elves and all the other good races. He always felt most pity for the elves though – fantastic and majestic as they were in the stories told to young dwarfs – they were so out of place in the underground halls, no sunshine to brighten their days, no forests to explore. Even though elves don’t need sleep as much as other folk, these refugees seemed too destroyed to care and would lay for days at a time, wasting away slowly..
Fjalarr caught himself thinking for too long and started walking again, to work. He was a talented smithy at the time, quite good at making weapons of war – and the need for these never diminished, especially these days, when the dangers came to Khog not only from the surface, but from down below as well..
The city had to expand lower and lower every year, opening old pathways and carving out new ones. Unlike past dwarfs delving too deep in order to find more ore or riches, this time they only needed.. space. Room for underground food production, housing, of course, and other materials. The help of other underground dwellers and surface elves was required here – by combining their skills they developed a whole irrigated system of growing algae and mushrooms. Not much in the taste, but at least starvation wasn’t much of an issue.
What was an issue, however, were the common attacks from monstrosities and unfriendly races. Orcs, goblins and kobolds would often attempt to raid the outer reaches of the city, in search of food and weapons to steal. The king of Khog, Bruenor, held councils often, trying to plan out the defenses as well as possible, but the further they expanded, the worse it got, as the defenders needed to cover more and more tunnels. Patrol groups of all the good races – elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes and even humans – would roam around the outer reaches, protecting workers and getting rid of the attackers.
And what they needed were weapons. More weapons, as some would get lost or get taken away when patrols were successfully ambushed. Worst of all, most of the refugees came to Khog with only the clothes on their backs, unarmed, with all their riches left on the surface, abandoned.
Fjalarr held up the sword he started making yesterday, before he fell to sleep out of exhaustion. Not the most beautiful blade he has ever made, but it will have to make do. All the dwarven smithies were held back when the King demanded them.. to drop the quality. It pained the famous artisans much to make cruder weapons and armor, but the need for quantity overcame the need for quality in the time of need. Someday, Fjalarr kept saying to himself, someday he would make a masterpiece.
“You seem to have had a great night’s sleep, Fjal,” a coworker and good friend of his, Thromn, chided when he saw Fjalarr silently standing next to the anvil, lost in thought. “Something on your mind today?” There was something. He heard rumours recently, that the king is preparing yet another expedition to the surface. Many of them get lost and never return, those who do usually run back with grave injuries.
“I was thinking,” he mused. “There must be something we could do about the whole situation. We can’t be living like this forever..”
“And why not exactly? We’re fellow dwarves, we can live underground for centuries and everything will be fine.” Thromn interjected.
“Will it though? How can you be so sure? How would you know that the frost never reaches the upper part of the city,” Fjalarr countered.
It was already becoming pretty difficult to leave the city to the surface. The gates freeze over, both from low temperatures (as low as -35C) and the tones of snow that cover them and block the passage out. Researchers claim that the temperature keeps dropping, albeit slowly, every month, so it’s only a matter of time until the city is forced to move even deeper below and expand beyond the currently safe city limits. Wizards, despite protests of magic averse dwarves, have been creating permanent enchantments to hold off the cold near the city entrance, but are still unsure of how viable this solution will be when the temperature drops even further.
“Think I be volunteering for the next explorer group,” Fjallar whispered, “Might my axe come in handy dealing with the beasts outside, there in the cold, much more than my smithing skills here..”
“Then I’m coming with,” Thromn said proudly puffing his hairy chest. “I can’t be leaving you with all the fighting and adventure, surely you’ll need some help.” Fjalarr could not argue – fighting beside his best friend, the harsh conditions on the surface would be so much easier to bear. Usually the expeditions would consist of not only dwarves, but some elves and other races. The king’s council would try to mix and match the members of each group, so that as many skills and proficiencies would be covered.
“Wonder if there are any other volunteers these days..” Fjalarr mused.
Tanithil was scouring through his collection of books and spells, thinking how to perfect the spell he was working on for months now. There is too much pressure, he thought, in this city, everything moving too fast for the delicate art of magic – as it requires patience, focus and obviously an abundance of time. He could not decide which of the spells was more important right now – no matter how much the King bugged him about working on easily applied cold immunity spells, Tanithil kept working and something even more grand – his own pocket dimension. Right now, he felt, this type of magic was still far beyond him, but he has heard of great wizards who managed to build worlds cut off from the issues concerning outside the entrance.
“I so wish I knew all the runes for that.. It would solve all the problems.. at least some of them. Someday someday..” he said, absentmindedly, when the king’s messenger entered his small abode.
“The King requests your audience, sir,” the young dwarf messenger said upon entering the wizard’s room. Tanithil nodded, picked up some of his books with his recent research and walked out. The messenger led him through the cramped underground tunnels, fully knowing that the wizard would get lost if let alone – elves weren’t the best at navigating underground, more so an absent minded wizard. Tanithil didn’t mind at all, as he followed still lost in thought when they reached the audience hall.
He bowed when he neared the king, as was customary, and placed his books on the side of the great table, on which a finely drafted surface map was placed upon. Tanithil noted all the small details marked on the map, such as known surviving (when last checked) settlements and various landmarks and scouted dangerous locations.
King Brourreg Coldhammer motioned some of his pages to leave the hall and turned to the wizard. “Have you got any news for me, Tanithil?” His face, as always, deep in thought and stoic. The wizard found him always hard to read.
“I’ve made progress on the protection spells you requested, my.. King.” He felt a slight tinge when he said that. Not that he didn’t respect the king enough to address him that way, it’s just the circumstances were quite odd off how he became one.
The true ruler of his, Ilthuryn, was a proud elf, and when his subjects (Tanithil included) left Tyathaes for the safety of Khog, he remained, despite the upcoming colds. Ilthuryn and his most loyal subjects haven’t been heard off for nearly two years or so.
“Finally some great news,” the King said and Tanithil noticed a glimmer of hope in his eyes. Something he hasn’t seen much off in the King’s eyes during his tenure as the court’s wizard.
“Too many people..” The king mumbled under his breath. “Too many. We can’t just keep going deeper and deeper, expecting all the cold to just pass. We need more volunteers.” He sighed. The last expedition went out about a month ago, never to return. And those were friends and trusted allies of his, skilled and well prepared. “We need more help from you magic, Tanithil, “ the king continued, somewhat reluctantly. “Could you enchant a whole group or at least some trinket, to provide protection outside?”
“Yes, my King, but.. It would not last long enough, the magic would fade after a week, give or take. It would have to be reenchanted one in a while to maintain the strength of the spell.” Tanithil paused for a second. He has never been the most adventurous and daring, but even he understood that something had to be done. “I could go with the next group.” He said, silently. “I would ward them from the cold. I’m not much of a fighter, but I have other spells as well in my arsenal.”
“Are you sure? I cannot force this on you.” The king replied. “But I would make sure that the group is well armed and very capable. Two dwarves already signed up for the next expedition, good dwarves, skilled in both fighting and smithing. They’d offer you great safety. When would you be able to travel?”
“In a week or so, I think. I would finish up with enchanting and instruct my apprentice on my duties for the city while I’m away.” Tanithil noted the king’s sudden revelation that he’d lose one of the best wizards currently residing in the city. “Don’t you worry, my king, he’s young but resourceful. He will keep the enchantments running.”
“I do hope so.” Brourreg mused.
Sylelle was working on her morning meditations when the King himself knocked on the door of her tiny abode. She saw him through the tiny window and started rushing to the door, knocking books and plates off tables, rolling chairs over. Forgetting she had locked the door the night before, she came crashing into it with a bang.
“Auuuoooiiii..” she moaned. Sylelle was special indeed, as it was uncommon for Brourreg to leave his chambers. Little did the other nearby occupants know the story between the two. Brourreg knew her parents many years ago. The halfling couple were trusted advisors to the king, so when Sylelle came to be – he became much like an uncle to her. Uncle Brou she would call him.
Finally she got up and opened the door. “Yes, uncle.. King? What can I do for you this lovely morning?” She said, as officially as she could. Instead, after a short delay, she just ran up to him and gave him a hearty hug. Brourreg, usually stern and composed, returned her hug and smiled widely. She had this effect on him – the youthful happiness and enthusiasm were very contagious. Even the onlookers smiled for a bit and then continued on their business, as usual, getting ready for work or other responsibilities.
Brourreg entered her small home, sat down on a cheer, his face returning to his more usual grim look. “I have something to ask of you, my dear niece.”
“Anything for you uncle!” she said cheerfully, but became more serious after seeing his grim face. “What’s on your mind?”
“I’m collecting the, quite possibly, last expedition before we’re forced to close the gate forever. And I do not know any more capable cleric to accompany them and keep them safe..” he started. His voice shivered.
She walked up to him, her eyes lining up with his. “If ye think they need me more than you do, I will go. I trust in your judgement fully, uncle. You needn’t worry about me.. Or them either. But.. what do you expect us to find out there?”
“There are rumours about a city, magecityname, that survived, on the surface. We need to know how they did this and mayhaps the also know why the cold came to be.” Brourreg whispered, not wanting anyone outside the hovel to hear this.
Sylelle walked to the designated meeting place and looked around. Tanithil was already there, sitting on a bench, reading a book. From the cover, it appeared to be regarding enchantment magic. Syl sat down next to him, smiling and was about to greet him when she noticed that the wizard was completely oblivious of the surroundings. She inched closer, almost burying her tiny face into the book itself. Still no reaction. She turned her head around and saw that his eyes were close, as if he was meditating (not sleeping, as elves aren’t the sleeping type). Not wanting to intrude, she straightened out right the moment two dwarves waddled into the room. Thromn and Fjalarr both took their best gear – both armored to the teeth, Thromn has his shield and mace comfortably on his back and belt, respectively, while Fjal was carrying his runed two handed axe.
The axe was a fine piece, one of the greatest creations of his. He worked tirelessly for days to insure the balance of the weapon was perfect and when he received the enchantment runes, simple as they were, he worked for many more, attentively working on the smallest details. It was the first magical weapon he has ever created, so it certainly wasn’t the strongest, but he fell in love with the weapon. He carried it proudly into battle, noticing the envious looks of his companions.
Thromn was not as much into weapons as he was into armor. His greatest work (at least for now) was his armor. By showing his skill and tirelessly working for the king, he earned a chunk of mithril, which he promptly set to work into two sets of armor, one for him, one for his best friend, Fjalarr.
Syl expected that her uncle would not send her with just any warriors, but didn’t expect that the two volunteers would be one of the best smithies in the city. A lot was riding on the success of the expedition, or at least the safe return of all of them..
All the group needed now was a tracker and guide, someone who’d know the lay of the land and could even if snowfall covers up visibility.
She was in the lower levels when the groups first meeting took place, ahead of the dwarf “cleaning” group, looking for trouble. Nimbly and stealthily she turned the corner and saw a group of orcs, having for supper, it seemed, the group of dwarves that was lost a few days ago.
None of them noticed her, most likely because of the attention on the food, but they wouldn’t even if they paid all attention, as she was silent as a cat when she wanted to be. Quite literally, as unlike most scouts, she was neither a rogue, nor a ranger, but a shapeshifter druid. She silently walked back to the main force, motioned for the to prepare for the ambush and turned into a tiny yet juicy looking piglet. Her whole body morphed right there in the dwarfs eyes, armor and bow melding with her new squelly body. She waddled, still silently, closer to the orcs again. Making sure to check the path back was still safe she walked in front of the entrance to the cave of supping orcs and started squealing.
The orcs, although they had food left, pig meat was way more attractive than the tough dwarven flesh so they couldn’t believe their luck – dinner just walked right in. Unperturbed by the fact of seeing a pig underground, they grabbed their weapons and gave chase.
She promptly turned and started running with her short piglet feet towards the ambushing dwarfs. Five orcs followed, intent on grabbing the piggy. They followed her into a larger open chamber and started trying to grab her. She ducked and squealed, rolled and charged ahead, two orcs bashing their heads together. Though very amusing, she had to drop the act at some point – she shifted to her halfling form and cast a spell – huge green vines sprouted from the ground around the orcs, grabbing them and keeping them in place. She just smiled at them and shifted into a black raven, a symbol of death for the orcs, while the dwarves started peppering them with crossbow bolts.
She despised killing any living beings, but orcs were too vicious to be left alive. Much like parasites, they destroy habitats, hunt down small defenseless creatures just for fun, not necessarily for food.
“They had to be killed.” she whispered, almost apologetically. She morphed to her true form. She was a firbolg, towering almost twice the height of the dwarves, but the short folk never held a grudge against her for that. She was extremely useful in scouting the passages and was a great ally to the dwarves. And could kick some butts when needed, whether it’s in her true form, or one such as a huge bear.
They collected what they could, set the pile of orc bodies on fire and stood there for a while, covering their noses. Leaving dead bodies was quite dangerous, as the carrion underground, gigantic ever hungry worms, were no less dangerous than the orcs themselves.
After the bodies were sufficiently burned, the party kicked their ashes around, extinguished the flames and started heading back to the city. It was quite a long walk back, maybe a few hours, but, as always, the group passed the time throwing around fun stories of travels and adventures. She would reminisce about about her home. When the cold crept over her forest, she led as many creatures as she could with her towards the dwarf city. She even managed to wake a hibernating bear. She would never leave her buddy behind so even the bravest dwarves were unnerved when a procession of animals came up to the city, being led by an 8 foot tall firbolg.
She managed to find a place for her animals, at least those she managed to save, on the outskirts of the city, but she knew that that was no living for surface dwelling beasts of the forest and something had to be done to save them. Maybe other forest animals survived as well, at least some, having little time left?
When the party came back to the city, the firbolg was greeted by a messenger, requesting her audience.
The druid was brought to the chamber the rest of the party was meeting. She ducked the door frame, as was common for her in the dwarven city and was greeted by sighs of the rest of the adventurers.
“Hello.” She said, somewhat awkwardly. “Heard you need a guide?” She then smiled warmly.
“Yes, we do, and we heard you’ve travelled all across the Darkwoods? We be travelling to the Evervale as we have rumours that it still somehow stands.” Fjalarr asked.
“Yes, I know of it. Quite a long ways off. Maybe a few weeks or so.” druid answered.
“So we have our next location and a guide. This here is Sylelle, our healer; Tanithil – the wizard; Thromn will be our protector and me, I’m Fjalarr. I’ll hit stuff. What shall we call you?” Fjal asked again.
“I have not a name, one like your kind takes up. But you can call me Tree, as I’m as tall as one.” she chuckled.
“Nice to meet you Tree!” Fjal came to her, extending his soot ridden hand. Tree answered the handshake and greeted the rest of the group with a wide smile. When she lived in Darkwood by herself, she considered the dwarves to be too destructive, taking advantage of nature and its gifts readily with little thought about the toll their actions would take. But living with them for awhile she came to know them a lot better, understood them more and came to appreciate their craftiness, albeit never taking any of their armours or weapons.
The rest of the group were familiar with tales of how Tree helped the dwarf patrols maintain safety in the lower halls, so they were quite assured about their own safety for their adventure.
“So shall we? Let’s get our gear, provisions and head out! Not like it’s going to get any warmer.” The whole group shared the ensuing laughter.
It took them a whole one day of final preparations and gathering provisions. When they were ready, king Brourreg asked them for a final audience. He had his pages look for something he could give to the adventurers right from his treasury. Gold and expensive stones would be of little use during the expedition, but he had quite a few magical items in store.
For Thromn he picked out a magical shield, sturdier than the sheer metal shield he had before, but also imbued with properties to safeguard the shieldbearer from magic attacks. Also, the shield, unsurprisingly, bore the mark of the dwarf kingdom, a two-handed axe, runed with ancient symbols few could recall.
For Fjalarr he gave a belt of strength, infusing the fighters attacks with even more destructive power. Fjal buckled up the belt above his mithril armor, stood there for a second, as if he felt nothing out of order. However, the rest of the group noticed him fill in the armor more, as if his muscles grew suddenly. After a few moments, Fjal bowed, took one step back and noticed that he had more strength than before, far more. Already he imagined how’d he smack any enemies daring to cross his path.
For Tanithil the king brought a magical staff. Rarely such items are seen in the treasuries of dwarves (as there aren’t many, if any, dwarf wizards), but king Brourreg was friends with the elves for centuries, on occasion receiving magical gifts from the magical kind. One such, the staff, he didn’t know the value off, but still felt its magical properties. Tanithil took the staff into his hands, held it for a minute.
“Magnificient!” he managed to exclaim.
The king was hard pressed to find something for Tree. The druids, he knew, would not appreciate anything made of metal, so he could not give out weapons or armor, but he found a magical pouch, seemingly limitless in volume, and filled it with healing and protective potions and various spellcasting and curative materials. Tree took a whiff off the various components inside and smiled, thankful.
Last but not least was his niece, Sylelle. He was afraid for her safety, surely, but could never have felt more proud about her than that moment. She readily agreed to venture into danger for the benefit of the city and its people, to perhaps discover the cause for the calamity. No hesitation, just pure determination. Brourreg knew she was in good company – strong fighters and casters, and hoped little trouble would befall her. He turned towards the chest that held all other gifts and pulled out a mace.
“This mace is called Truth, “ he said, handing it to Sylelle, “may it serve well as it had served my ancestors.” He tried to remain calm, but a small tear left his eye and he promptly washed it off with his hand. Sylelle smiled widely holding the mace, attached it to her belt and gave her uncle a big hug. Hoping it was not the last time she’d see him.
The upper parts of the city, closer to the gates weren’t populated much, as the cold was seeping through the many cracks in the wall and the gates themselves. Only a few guards were stationed here, taking shifts to warm up once in a while deeper inside. When the group finally reached the gates, the temperatures had already dropped to close to 0 degrees celsius. Shards of ice covered the icy floors, making it pretty hard to walk as it was extremely slippery. Both the dwarves, clad in heavy armor, had to walk in small tiny steps as not to fall over.
“Are your enchantments ready, Tanithil?” Fjalarr asked, turning to the wizard. Tanithil then searched his bag and pulled out 4 necklaces, similar to the one he was already wearing.
“Put these on, they’ll make the cold less painful.” he said, handing the necklaces one by one. They were simple looking necklaces, of dwarven craft, somewhat crude, but, although not as delicate as elven jewelry, you were pretty much guaranteed that they would not fall off easily. And that might prove rather dangerous if it did.
“I guess we’re ready then.” Fjalarr said and turned to the guards, “Let us out.”
The guards nodded and tucked their warm clothes in. Two of them started shipping away at the doorway, half frozen. When it was done, they opened the door and urged the adventurers to go. A sudden breeze of freezing cold rushed at them. The beards on the guards faces promptly froze to icicles, their breaths creating huge clouds of freezing air.
The group past the door, waved at the guards and saw them closing the door and briskly walking back to the fires deeper inside. They all looked around now – the entrance to Khog was higher up the slopes of a nearby mountain, so they had a good panoramic view. All they could see in front of them was snow and the whiteness of eternal winter.
As soon as they started going down the mountain, although they’ve heard about this from other explorers, what seemed most strange about the weather was that the sky was completely clear all the time. There was very little moisture hanging in the air and the sheet of snow covering the ground was quite thin, but rather tough, so their crunching footsteps echoed in the open landscape far into the distance.
Even Tree, who was more skilled in stealth, winced after every step as she felt too loud. And loudness, in most cases, tended to attract danger. After an hour or two she decided to shapeshift into a snow tiger instead. The giant cats large paws did not sink into the snow so much, so she could run off a tad further ahead of the group, remaining somewhat silent. She stayed on guard though, listening for the smallest of sounds, any signs of life on the surface. In her tiger form, her hearing was improved beyond what was possible to her true form. She perked her ears up, scanning the environment. Seemingly the only sounds out far into the distance were the sounds of footsteps her new friends were making.
“Too silent, too empty.” she growled.
“Sooo, tell me a story.” After a few hours silent walk, Sylelle spoke aloud turning to Tanithil. “Not like there’s much need to remain silent, we’d be heard anyways by the footsteps of Fjal and Thromn from beyond that ridge.“ she said pointing to a mountain tens of kilometers away.
Tanithil thought for a second, debating whether there was merit in her claim. “What story would you like to hear, Syl?” he answered.
“Tell me off your homeland and the magical elves. I was always fascinated by them but never had a chance to visit.” Tanithil could see earnest disappointment in her eyes, so could Syl as Tanithil drifted into his memories. He slowly recounted the magnificence of his home, the tall spires where great wizards lived and performed their miracles, halls of splendor for dancing and fancy feasts, of great artists and their works displayed across many thousand year old castles. Tanithil knew not what happened to his home though, as most of the elves moved south, to their ancient allied elven kingdom. Whether they survived the trip or whether the other elven kingdom still stands – he did not know.
First day of travel was completely uneventful, as they spent the majority of the day going downhill away from the dwarf fortress lower into the valley below. The temperatures, however, did not seem to warm up at all and remained at steady around -40 C, beyond what would be tolerable without magical enchantments Tanithil created. The sky was blue and the suns shone as strong as ever, yet no relief of warmth came upon them.
When night time came, Tanithil set out to create a magical dome they would pass their night in, while the rest of the group scouted around. The silence was overwhelming. Even underground in Khog, late at night, you would care shuffling from nearby hovels and various bugs creeping around, while here, on the surface, unless one of the party members made a sound, there was nothing. Not even the wind seemed to make much of a difference.
Tree was right now, again, scouting in her tiger form, running in the darkness, looking for danger. She wanted to shapeshift into a falcon or another great flying beast, but the lack of wind made flying extremely difficult, so she decided not to risk it. The lack of wind raised another issue, she knew, as the smells of monsters or other dangers would not travel that far.
By the time she was satisfied with scouting, Tanithil had already built their “home”. The dome they would spend their nights in was a magical shield of sorts. Unless the wizard allowed, nothing could pass through its walls, not even the cold, so when they all finally gathered inside, they were relieved that at least for a little bit, they could feel warmth again. They silently ate their dinners, chatted for a bit and went to sleep.
As Tanithil did not need actual sleep as much as every other team member, he remained semi conscious while meditating. He was thinking carefully about which spells to prepare for tomorrow – as he has, after the first day, a better understanding of their needs. He was undecided about a spell that would give flight to the target when he saw a huge yeti bang a mace at the dome.
As per the dome spell’s description, no sound came from outside, nor could the yeti break down the opaque wall separating the sleeping party and the beast. Tanithil then saw two more yetis, one smaller, come up to the dome. He knew they could not see through it nor could they smell them, but he still felt uneasy. Trusting in the spell he didn’t not rouse his friends and let them rest. However, the yetis did not appear to be planning to move at all.
One hour, two hours, four passed – the yetis stayed near the dome. Waiting. They weren’t the smartest creatures, but, as Tanithil thought, perhaps there was so little happening in the cold that any notion of living creatures passing through had their highest interest.
After sunrise, Tanithil started waking his friends up.
“Wake up, we have a problem.”
The scared looks on their faces showed everything – they had nowhere to run.
When they all woke and got their armor and weapons prepared, the yetis didn’t seem to notice and continued sitting near the dome, resting, one was slowly walking around the exterior walls.
“Wonder how many expeditions failed in the hands of these yetis. Would probably be best if we dealt with them..?” Thromn mused. Tree walked closer while one of the yetis stared at the dome blanky. She held his stare although the yeti did not respond in any way.
“A necessary fight. These monsters care little for nature and will hunt down anything edible. We have to.” She said out loud, keeping her eyes on the yeti.
“Can we simply walk away and fight or must you destroy the dome?” Fjalarr asked Tanithil.
“You can walk out and come back if needed, as long as I’m inside, meaning I won’t be able to help you much with my magic.” the elf answered.
“Better have a backup plan. Everyone ready?” Fjal asked and looked at every party member. They all nodded. The dwarf then turned to one of the yetis, aimed his axe high and rushed out the dome, chopping his weapon down at the yeti’s head. The monster didn’t even get a chance to react when it’s head got split open, brain splattering around the frozen ground.
The two other yetis stood up, picked their weapons and started rushing towards the dwarf. The bigger one was almost four times the height of Fjal. He liked those odds.
Before the yetis could reach the dwarf standing in, now, a more defensive position, Syl walked out and started casting a spell calling to her goddess. The biggest yeti suddenly felt it’s muscles tighten and slid, moved by innertion over the icy ground like a half a ton ram, straight into the armed dwarf. Fjal didn’t bother dodging the paralysed yeti but instead braced himself trying to stop the beast. That didn’t work that well and the dwarf started rolling backwards from the extreme push, the yeti still sliding after him.
The smaller yeti, seeing its boss charge the dwarf, turned to Syl and raised his club, hoping to squish the halfling. Before it could do that, Thromn pounced out of the dome, raising his shield to squander the incoming attack. The club shattered the moment it hit the shield, as if hitting the toughest of walls made of the hardest metal possible. The yeti then held pieces of the club, threw it away and tried grappling the dwarf instead.
Tree then came out, shifted into a snow tiger and started mauling the yeti next to Thromn. Huge nails dug into the monster’s flesh as a stream of blood started splattering around. Tree then dug her teeth into its neck and felt the yetis lifeblood draining away, slowly and then its body slumped to the ground.
They all turned to the last yeti, still paralysed, but now done sliding. Fjal stood up and rushed to the beast, chopping away. The monster never had a chance and fell down quickly, not being able to respond or even groan in pain.
After they had made sure everything was safe and all the yetis dead, Tanithil walked out of the dome with it disappearing behind him. He then walked up to the biggest of the yetis and looked at it intently.
“Wonder how these yetis survive in such colds.” He prodded the skin with a dagger. “A layer of fat under the skin, thick fur. Nothing out of the ordinary.. Yet yetis don’t usually survive in that cold an environment..” Tanithil then continued taking notes, taking samples.
“They are magical creatures – and as such cold never did much to them anyways. I know not of non magical beasts that could survive, sadly..” Tree answered and looked west, towards her long abandoned forest.
“We should not dilly dally too much, we have little precious daylight.” Thromn said, trying to hurry up the wizard. Not much could be heard at the time and the wizard’s dagger cuts seemed to echo for many kilometers.
Syl walked to Fjal. “Were you hurt?”
“Some bruises under the armor, maybe, but nothing serious. Thanks.” Fjal bowed, uncomfortably and scuttled to Thromn. Syl just smiled for a second.
“We can go.” Tanithil claimed, wrapping up his investigation. “I have enough samples. Maybe I’ll be able to learn something from them.” He nodded to the dead bodies, as if thanking them.
The rest of the day was much like their first day of travel – uneventful, with no sounds, no movement (apart from them) anywhere.
Later in the day, they started looking around for the next resting site. Tanithil’s dome certainly provided safety, but the explorers realised their supplies are still limited. Water was plenty, of course, so they put up a fire and started melting large chunks of clear ice and then filling their canteens.
The next issue was food. Tree spent a considerable amount of time wandering around canyons and crevices, where she hoped she’d be able to find caves with at least some life left, but to no avail. The world was dead. She stood there, solemnly, unseen by anyone.
In one of the caves she saw writing though, of druidic origin. Old ones, predating the great cold. She traced her fingers through the runes, thinking, trying to recall the intricacies of the language. She was uncertain about some of the details, but generally it was a log of one old druid, tender of the nearby mountains. He described the mighty beasts that roamed the area, claimed which of the plants could be used as remedies and healing droughts. Tree recalled seeing none of those anywhere around.
She also saw some runes she couldn’t discern the meaning off, not right now. She took some chalk and scribbled them onto her arm and headed back to the group.
When the rest turned to meet her, she just turned her head side to side, indicating no luck found, and sat down. There had to be a way how the old druid survived in these, even before the cold, harsh mountainous lands. Druids never hunted animals for food, instead taking care of even the most dangerous of beasts, so had to rely on plant life, and even that they did not abuse.
She looked at the runes on her hand, deep in thought.
The next day they came upon a grizzly sight – a long frozen campsite with pieces of humanoid bone laying around, parts of weapons and armor thrown around the ground. The dwarves solemnly confirmed that it was a campsite made by an earlier expedition – with dwarf made equipment, some weapons and pieces of armor, some even made by both of the crafters.
“They were attacked, maybe by the same yetis? No wonder they roamed around this path and found us as well.” Fjal mused, looking around for some clues.
“There are no obvious tracks leading away from the campsite that would indicate a survivor..” Tree said, walking around the perimeter of the camp. “Might have ambushed them all at once..” She then stopped for a second. “Maybe I’m wrong, look here.” She motioned for everyone to come. She showed very slight footprints, barely perceptible, leading into the ravine to the east.
“Looks like someone survived. But how long was it since the last expedition? A month, two?” Thromn asked.
“Around that, yes.” Syl answered. She did not doubt the likelihood of that person surviving was slim, but she felt this impulse to make sure. She turned that way, looked to the sky, as if listening to someone. “We should have a look.”
They nodded and started following Syl towards the ravine.
Syl did not appear to be following any footsteps as she walked looking straight ahead. Tree however, did look at the ground and confirmed they were going the correct way by nodding at the rest of the group.
They spent close to an hour or so walking the ravine until the footsteps led them into a small cave. It was difficult to discern any footsteps beyond the entrance, but they didn’t need to. What they found was, surprisingly, a well shaped stone door. Fjal walked to it, inspecting the work.
“Not made by tools, I would guess. Magic? Rock gnome magic, perhaps?” He asked, looking at Thromn. He nodded. Rock gnomes were amazing at working the earth even with their bare hands, as the magic instilled in them by their heritage was great indeed.
“No way to open it from this side, however.” Thromn said, knocking on the door. No response came from the other side. Tanithil walked closer, admiring the magical work, and knocked. The sound that came out was way louder than the other group members expected, as if imbued with magic, and the door slid open, as if urged to do so.
A waft of still air came out, but also some pleasant smells as well, of food being cooked somewhere down below. The cave was deep and led quite a bit down, much alike to the dwarven tunnels, but less worked. Tree nodded at the group, turned into a cat and moved silently deeper in.
It didn’t take too long until she saw a small fireplace with some red in it still, yet not burning as an open fire. Next to the fire, cuddled on the ground in furs (what appeared to be yeti furs), lay a small humanoid.
Tree creeped around as silently as she could and the second she turned to face the (she presumed) gnome, as dagger flashed at her, cutting away at her cat form. She didn’t expect that and lost her shapeshifted form immediately, but the gnome didn’t expect either, that the cat would turn into a lumbering giant kin.
“We’re not here to hurt you little fellow,” She whispered. “We saw your tracks and decided to follow.”
“I’m so sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to..” The gnome answered and stood up. “Name’s Brigim Rockbottom. At your service, I guess.”
The rest of the group climbed down to Tree and Brigim. The gnome looked scrawny and unkempt, but otherwise pretty healthy. Syl shared some of her rations with him, which he immediately gulped down.
“I remember you, I think. Didn’t you work in the lower parts of Khog?” Fjal asked.
“Indeed I did, until I joined the expedition, at least. Didn’t go too well for them though..” The group noticed Brigim was not too sad about the deaths, though, and he noticed their querying looks. “We argued a lot with that group. We were cold and hungry, and our leader, Grom, started to shout at the mage so loud that he probably woke all the yetis in these parts. They all descended on us at night and I ran for my life. Found this hole you see and quickly blocked it with my gnome magic.” As if to illustrate, he touched the nearby wall, punched it to prove it’s solid, then slowly slid his hand into the wall, as if it was water. “So I’ve been living here underground, going deeper slowly, foraging mushrooms and such. Not much of a living but I’m alive.”
“So are you staying here, or would you like to join us?” Syl asked. “We’re not cold thanks to Tanithil.” The elf nodded and pulled out an extra necklace (he had plenty of those, of course, just in case). Brigim put it on and immediately felt warmed.
He was about to thank them and agree, when the walls started rumbling and crumbling around them.
A huge worm, big enough to swallow even Tree, dug through the wall and aimed its giant maws at the group. They all spread out as quickly as they could, but Thromn held strong with his shield aimed straight. He dug his feet into the ground aiming to hit the worm and jump to the side at the last second (giving the rest enough time to run away).
However, once the worm reached the dwarf and Thromn jumped, the worm reacted fast enough and first clipped him and then swallowed him whole.
Thromn felt the acid eating away at his skin (albeit the armor was safe, as it was magical). He tried moving, however, could not really do much while he slunk down the worms throat.
A barrage of attacks followed when the party got out of range of the worm. Fjalarr started chopping the side with his axe, scoring a nice clean hit. Tree turned into a tiger and bit the wound Fjal opened seconds before. Syl kept a watchful eye looking for ways to help Thromn.
Tanithil, however, had a different idea. He quickly pulled a handful of metal shavings from his material bag and threw the straight across the worms path. A thick metal wall sprang in front of the monstrosity, which it promptly hit. Everyone, even Thromn, could hear the screeching sound of the worms teeth grating on the metal wall, unable to eat through it. The worm couldn’t turn now or run away, so the following attacks made it squirm hard.
Thromn meanwhile reached the monsters stomach. In pain from the acid, he started smashing pieces of the worms entrails that stuck out the most, until the worm started choking in pain.
The worm soon laid still and Thromn forced his way out through the side Fjal had chopped a lot, quickly starting to undress the armor. Fjal dropped his axe and started helping (knowing it would take too long). With the armor gone, Thromn stood there in the cave, butt naked and skin covered in boils. Syl rushed to the dwarf and started chanting her clerical magic. The wounds started closing and the skin returned to its normal dark color.
“We should leave, now. I feel more are coming.” Brigim said and rushed out the cave, back into the cold open air.
They started travelling again, now with Brigim cheerfully telling them stories. He felt a lot better when he was no longer in danger and cold, so he was a good addition to the team. Both the days and the nights were uneventful and they travelled for weeks, seeing little trouble or signs of life.
Tree managed to remember the meaning of the runes – it was a ritual to create some food daily, enough to satiate the group (albeit not too tasty). But they didn’t complain much, as that alleviated one of the issues – lack of replenishable provisions.
But the sole remaining issue was that they were unsure where to go. All the paths seemed similar – with the ice covered grounds and plant life frozen to icicles. The only lead they had was the human town to the south, so they continued on their path, looking for it.
They saw the first hints of the city still from far away. It snowed a little then, once they crossed one of the hills. It seemed as if the snowflakes bounced off a dome – much like the one the group used at night – but way bigger, big enough to cover the whole city – and the city, according to the records, was not small.
“Fascinating.” Tanithil exclaimed, looking at the dome from afar. “Many mages had done this, and powerful ones indeed. Looks similar to ours, yet so much bigger!”
When they got closer still, they started seeing buildings and people, roaming about the streets as if it was not cold whatsoever.
“The dome must be blocking the weather outside.” Fjal mused.
“Truly fascinating.” Tanithil replied, again.
They continued on their way until they were met by a patrol. They appeared to be similarly enchanted as the party and not afraid of the cold, but still approached the group warily.
“State your business,” one of the guards said, “or be on your way.”
“Hello lads! We’re coming from the dwarven city of Khog, several weeks of travel on foot away.” Thromn answered the inquiry. “Mind if we stayed in your fine city for a bit, to rest up?”
“There are no simple travellers nowadays. Just thieves and troublemakers for the city and the Guild.” The guard countered.
“The guild of.. what exactly?” Tanithil asked.
“Of our mighty rulers, the wizards, of course,” And without waiting for a reaction, continued. “You’ll get your chance to meet them by the gate.” he chuckled.
Tanithil was excited, probably more than he should’ve been. A city ruled by wizards seemed like an amazing prospect – especially in recent times he spent in Khog. Dwarves would use magic when necessary, but would not overly enchant their homes, so Tanithil felt somewhat out of place, compared to his home, Tyathaes. Elves were always known for their inclination to magical arts and Tanithil was at the forefront of magical knowledge and research, heading one of the magic schools no less.
However, when he had to leave the city, he could take little. The only item he kept from there, apart from his robe of course, was his old and dear spellbook. Bound by a cover made from the fallen branches of the elder tree in the city and marked by his family’s symbol – a wizards stave over the top of a lush tree. He would find time, someday, to travel to his home and reclaim some of his lost heirlooms, but it had to wait. They had more pressing concerns, including the odd way the guards presented the wizards.
Usually the caretakers of knowledge and great teachers, wizards rarely dabbled in politics or rulership, so it sounded quite strange. Might be that the human nature prevailed – Tanithil was all too familiar at how greedy and ambitious humans could be. “We will have to see.” He whispered to himself.
They spent about half an hour in contemplation before they reached the gates – if you could call them that – of the city. The edge of the dome coincided with the currently open gate arch. Several guards flanked the sides, though, but they weren’t paying much attention not were they headvily armed.
The two patrolmen leading the group came up to the “gate”, greeted the other guards and headed in.
“Wait here.” One of them said before passing through the dome. The two flanking guards eyed them suspiciously.
“Know what kind of magic this is, Tanithil?” Syl asked. “I’ve never seen anything at this grand a scale.”
“Neither have I. We elves didn’t shield ourselves this much. Well, never had any reason to.” The elf answered. He walked closer to the shimmering wall and tapped, lightly, fully expecting some aftershock or magical deterrence. Nothing happened, but he felt his fingers tap a solid wall, one much like the dome they slept in.
After a brief wait, a well and expensively dressed woman showed up, carrying a set of parchments.
“Who’s the leader of the group? Please step closer.” She said. They had no formal leader, but considering the circumstances, to no surprise, Tanithil walked closer. “Please enter the dome.” She said, looking intently at the elf. This time, when he led his movement with his hands again, he slowly passed through the wall. “My name is Anriel and I’m responsible for new arrivals through the northern gate. Please state your name and business in Evervale.”
Tanithil was at this point wary and knew not whether he should be completely truthful. Disregarding the concerns he decided to trust the wizard.
“My name is Tanithil and we’re all travelling from Khog, the dwarven city up north, in search of the cause for this calamity and possible solutions.” He stated. “It appears your great city fares well in these trying times. Might be you could help us or at least share some knowledge you’ve learned.” Anriel smiled at the compliment but the smile was.. wicked somehow, few in the group noticed.
“It all depends. Knowledge is not free here.” Anriel answered and spread out the parchments she had brought, took one out and presented it to Tanithil. The text therein was more or less an agreement into indeterminate servitude for the signee, better known as slavery. Tanithil skimmed through the text and chuckled.
“You can’t be serious, this is preposterous!” He exclaimed and took a step backwards, towards the edge. The rest of the group could not discern sounds from behind the dome, but could see that Tanithil was in distress at that point. Both the dwarves took their weapons out and walked closer.
“I feel you’re a wizard yourself, you will be of great use to us. Grab him.” She motioned to the guards. He managed to launch a bolt of fire at the guards (which did considerable damage) but he was soon cuffed. The rest of the group rushed in, however, bounced on the walls of the dome.
Anriel just smiled at the lot, motioned for the guards to follow her and bring Tanithil away.
“Never trust a human..” Fjal said out loud. “What do we do now?”
The party regrouped not far away from the gate, put up a fire (although they weren’t very cold, they didn’t feel too comfy) and had lunch.
“We have to get him back somehow.” Syl said. “And to do that – we have to get in.” Tree nodded, turned into a snow leopard and ran out to scout the perimeter of the dome. She spent a good part of the rest of the day quietly sneaking around until she finally found something – a small crack on the dome. Problem is – behind the crack was a solid wall of an, seemingly, abandoned stone house. Tree returned later in the evening to relay the information.
They decided to check the crack when the sky goes dark. They needn’t wait very long, and soon they started heading there.
“There are patrols here, so take care.” Tree said, when they started moving. “Let’s loop around to look like we’re leaving.”
“Agreed.” The dwarves said together. It was pretty difficult for them to be silent though, as the armor parts scraping together could be heard from quite far away. But they gave their best.
They reached the place Tree scouted and silently walked closer to the dome. Fjalarr walked closer and stuck his axe into the crack and pulled. Small shards of magical almost glasslike material started falling off the wall, widening the crack. When it was wide enough to squeeze through, Brigim walked closer, rubbed his hands together and touched the stone wall.
They could hear a slight vibration at first and then the stone appeared more like muddy water than stone.
“After you.” He motioned to the dwarves. They carefully walked closer, tried putting their hands on the watery wall first but couldn’t, as the arms passed through. The stone didn’t feel wet, just somewhat cold. One by one they passed the wall into an abandoned house on the edge of Evervale.
They snuck in, carefully and silently, not knowing what to expect inside the house, but it was truly completely empty. The air inside was pleasantly warm, as in the dome Tanithil would create. The windows were boarded up, so they could see little of what was happening on the streets.
“I’ll go take a look.” Tree said and shifted into a house cat and squeezed through a crack in the door to go outside. The street was somewhat empty, with few passersby walking, mostly in a rush and with some deliveries. This apparently was a less occupied section of the city – not by any means the poor side of Evervale, but more akin abandoned because there weren’t enough people in the city to occupy it.
She stuck to the shadows and made her way to the center of the domed city, following the sounds of an apparent gathering of sorts. It took her quite a while to get there, as Evervale was a large city, but what she saw there shocked her. At the center of town, in the middle of a great square and in front of a tower looking building, there stood a platform with three humans being hung up on ropes. Tree made her way up a side of one of the buildings, to get a better view.
A big crowd was gathered to see the event.
“We’re gathered today to punish the troublemakers trying to destroy our fair city of Evervale. There cretins aim to destabilise the order and attacked our lawful leaders – the guild members.” The speaker on the platform started. The crowd, although there were some who hooted in agreement, most looked as if they were forced to come here. “Should these monsters prevail, our town would be doomed – so we shall not let the cold take us!” And he motioned to the executioner, standing near a lever. He nodded and pulled on it, hanging the three to their deaths.
Tree was disgusted by the sight she witnessed. “Who were these “troublemakers.” She thought to herself. “Allies maybe?” She wondered. The viewers of the execution lingered for a short while and returned to their homes or work, it seemed, none of them truly enthusiastic about the event.
She followed around silently, listening on discussions and rumours she might overhear. Few mouthed their anger and dissatisfaction, even then in silent whispers, against the leadership of the wizards. Some even spat, seemingly, in the direction of the tower near the central square. By that point Tree was pretty sure the guild’s headquarters was there and probably that’s where Tanithil was being held for the time being.
She wandered around the city for a few more hours, trying to find more information about the possible resistance fighters, but to no avail.
Meanwhile the rest of the party heard the commotion outside, however no one showed up in this part of town after the event. While waiting for Tree to return, they took a rest yet again, preparing their weapons for the now seemingly inevitable fight when they were interrupted all of a sudden.
A human, clad in a dark cloak, walked right in. The dwarves jumped up, quickly arming themselves.
“I’ve not come to fight you.” He said. “We have shared goals, you and I. I know of your friend who was taken, the elf. And I can help you get him back.”
“We’re listening.” Fjal said.
“My name is Wallian.” he said, removing his hood and showing a scarred face of a middle aged man. “We have enemies in common in Evervale.” He took a few more steps that appeared to be painful, turned over a chair and sat on it, for the time being relieved of pain.
Syl walked to him. “Do you need some help?” She offered. “You don’t seem to be feeling that well.”
“The wounds are old, I’m afraid, made by those in the tower. But I thank you for the offer.” He managed a smile before continuing. “The wizard who took your friend, Anriel, is leading the guild, for now. They were, at the beginning, just assisting the duke but eventually grew in power, as the city was wholly reliant on their magic. They killed the duke and most of the guards, took over the leadership of the city and are nowadays doing whatever they want. People can’t live in the cold so they must comply.”
“And what is it you’re after?” Fjal asked. “Have you got a plan to stop them somehow?”
“I do,” he said. “I was once one of them. I know the magic involved in the creation and maintenance of the dome, so they kept me alive, but I was stripped off my position when I disagreed with Anriel on her actions towards enslaving the people of Evervale. I can get you in the tower, as long as you’re ready to fight them and help me remove them from leadership.”
“We have to think about it and talk it over. Tree’s not back yet either.” Thromn said.
“Whatever you do while you think all this over, don’t show in any public spaces – the people here know each other well, you’ll get recognised very fast if you walk in any of the taverns or occupied houses.” Wallian said. “Take care and I’ll return on the morrow.” He said and waddled out.
Tree returned soon after and shifted back to her true form. She then plumped on to the same chair Wallian had, about an hour ago.
“What have ye found?” Fjal asked.
“An execution of troublemakers, as they called it. A crowd was forced to look, as well, when they gave their sentence. Then the executioners simply walked away, back to the tower, no protest or anything.” Tree responded.
“We’ve been visited by one local, offering us help in saving Tanithil. A wizard, he claims, fallen out of grace from the current guild leaders. Maybe he can actually help us.” Syl said. The rest nodded solemnly, unsure if they had a better choice. And they knew not how Tanithil was being treated right now.
“We could stealth in the fight.” Brigim said. “We just need the dwarves to.. Unload a bit. The metal plates would be a huge detriment to the mission. And I could help you hide them well.” He added, responding to concerned looks the dwarves gave. They didn’t fight much, because they knew how loud they were when they walked around fully clad in their armor. They then proceeded to remove their gear, while Brigim, using his innate powers of melding earth, placed the pieces of armor straight in the ground. When they were finished, they were no signs of such treasure being hidden.
They then placed their hoods up and, after waiting for the darkness of night to fall, moved out.
Tree led the way in her black cat form – perfectly blending with the shadows in the night time city. She remembered the path to the city center and the safer alleys, so she led the group on by occasionally turning back to them and shining the way with her feline eyes.
Now unburdened from heavy armor, the dwarves were actually quite silent, apart from the occasional grumbling, while the rest did fine as well. Soon, however, they were suddenly stopped by the sounds of a patrol.
“Not sure why we’re patrolling, nothing happens at night.” One of them said, breaking the otherwise silent night.
“We have our orders. The troublemakers might strike soon, they said, so quit your jabbering. I’m not losing my life for your nonsense.” The other replied, backhanding the other. The first one didn’t not seem to fight back – and the party thought the second one being the superior of sorts.
“Shh, did you see something?” The second guard apparently noticed a shadow slinking further ahead, short and stocky one – Thromn. Both the guards turned his way and brought up the torch, lighting the street. Thromn at that point hid in an alley nearby, trying to remain as silent as possible. Fjal, squatting nearby was, was readying his weapon, when a cat meowed to the other side of guards.
“A cat? Haven’t seen one in months. Thought they died off long ago.” The second guard said. “Might be a great prize for us! The guild would be willing to pay for a new pet.” They nodded to each other and started inching closer to the cat. When they were but a few meters away, the cat gave a long meow and pounced, mid flight changing into a huge panther, dropping the first guard straight on the ground and pinning him down.
The second guard was moving his arm to his horn, aiming to blow and alert sound when he got hit in the head, hard, with the side of Fjalarr’s axe.
They tied the guards up and gagged them, then dragged them into the basement one of the nearby abandoned houses. They continued on their way towards the tower and soon got there – with no other guards or bystanders in sight. It was, after all, nighttime then, so few people had any reason to be out.
However, the main entrance of the tower – the huge double doors, where flanked on both sides by guards, both in lit up areas. Going through there was no option, they agreed, silently in nods.
They went around the tower, looking for other possible entrances, however, found none, as the walls of the tower were completely solid and no windows were to be seen anywhere. Brigim tried melding through the stone walls but to no avail.
“Must be protected from magic.” He mused.
They stopped to consider their options when a voice pierced the silence.
“So you did not like my offer?” Wallian said, coming out of the shadows. “I can get you in, as I promised before.” He added.
The party looked at each other considering their options. Either it was storming the entrance by force and fighting who knows how many guards, or trusting this stranger. They decided to vote. The dwarves were willing to storm the door straight up, while the rest, however, raised their hands and decided to trust in the wizard.
Wallian noted the distrust but pushed it aside and beckoned them to follow him. He walked round the perimeter of the tower, gently tapping on the protruding stones, till he hit one he needed. He then silently whispered an incantation and the wall slowly opened up into an unlit corridor.
“Follow me.” Wallian said and went in.
The path they took was dark and cramped, as if they were walking between the outer and inner walls and they were walking for a surprisingly long time. Syl and Brigim, most of all, noticed the peculiarities of their traversal to the insides of the tower – deciding the strangeness comes from the magical nature of their path and the subtleties of the tower itself.
“It’s difficult to perceive, but we’re squished and passing through as this as a few centimeters.” Wallian answered their questions, noticing their odd looks. “No worries, we’re about to exit the path.”
They soon did entering a small closed down chamber.
“It’s my old chambers.” Wallian said, walking around, lightly touching the dusty tomes and his old but well made study desk. “I dared not return here for so long..” The group noticed the nostalgic notes in his voice and a single tear rolling down his face.
“A fine room.” Thromn said, nodding. “Anything we could use here? For the incoming fight?”
Wallian walked around to a bookcase and pulled out one particular book, richly bound and obviously expensive. He turned a few pages and they noticed arcane runes written on all pages, some even recognizable as spells.
“This is my old spellbook with some still great and useful spells.” Wallian said. “But is there anything else of use for you..” He mused, scratching his chin. “Maybe..” He walked to a cupboard, opened it and started pulling out vials of all sorts. He checked their alchemical consistency and whether they would be usable. “Here, take these.” He gave them a potion each. “For healing. And this one..” He raised a potion swirling with a beautiful looking liquid of all the colors of the rainbow. “Throw it straight at them if we have to fight.”
He then took a last look around and walked closer to one of the walls, mumbled something under his breath and a door appeared.
Wallian stepped into the corridor with great care, they noticed.
“Many traps are active on this part of the tower, especially at night. I know of a few of them..” He said, walking around a floor tile and motioning for the rest of the party to do the same. “But they surely made more. Stay vigilant.” He said and continued down the corridor. It, they noticed, not unlike the secret pathway, seemed much bigger than it was supposed to be considering the size of the tower, so they mused the insides must be similarly magically warped.
The tower was beautiful though, they had to agree. The marble floors and walls dyed in various inks with images of powerful wizards and magical artifacts – swords, shining crystals and the like. Some walls were much akin to spellbooks of sorts, partially describing the workings of the most famous of spells. The tower had indeed great history in its magic.
“We were once of the most benevolent magical guilds, helping people for the sake of goodness. Much has changed past the calamity..” As he was about to end the sentence, he stepped onto a floor tile and heard a slight click. He stopped moving and considered his options.
Brigim, being the lightest on his feet (apart from Tree in her beastly form), walked closer. He first checked the walls for possible dart holes, but could find nothing out of the ordinary. Then he took a closer look at the floor. The tiles thereforth seemed to resemble a pattern of sorts, differing from the ones they just passed through. The corridor was 5 tiles across and he could see 20, give or take, rows of 5 each ahead.
“Do these images have any meaning for you?” He asked Wallian. “Could be that we need to pass over in a certain order.”
“These tiles weren’t here when I was still a member of a guild.” He answered.
“I see nothing, no dart holes, no trip wires.. Unless it’s magic related, might be just a misaligned tile.” Brigim said with confidence.. and moved ten feet away from the wizard. “Just tumble away, as fast as you can.”
Wallian had few choices so he decided to trust in Brigim. He quickly turned around and jumped rolling away from the first set of tiles. The moment he released the pressure on the tile, a burst of flame rouse from the rune, clipping his foot (the one he had stepped on the tile with) magma hot fire. The tunnel got filled with the smell of burning flesh, while Wallian had to use all his willpower not to scream in agonizing pain.
Syl rushed to him, uttering words of divine power, and quickly touched his foot. Dim light swirled around her hand and the burn wound seemed to close in seconds. She then pulled out a dagger and cut the remaining burned up clothing around the wound, as not to aggravate the skin for no reason.
“Thank you.” Wallian said, relieved off the pain. He stood up, looking at the tiles up closer. “There must be some sort of order, but I can’t recognise any of the symbols on the tiles. Can someone?”
Now everyone walked closer, looking at the tiles from a safe distance. Surprisingly, Tree spoke up. “They mean nothing at all. Might be that’s the point? Maybe there are similarities between one of the tiles on each row, one’s we can step up, while the rest matter not.”
Now everyone looked intently for signs that could confirm or deny this assessment. And there was indeed a similarity between some, Syl noticed. While the images on the tiles changed, one in each row had this odd rune on them.
“A rune in the casting of a fireball. Funny.” Wallian said, motioning for the rest to take a few steps back and started carefully jumping from one marked tile to the other. He proceeded with success to the far end of the corridor and urging them to follow.
“What are these corridors anyways? No doors or anything and it feels as if we’re going up and down slightly all the time.” Thromn asked.
“This whole floor is for our personal studies. And much like in the case of my old room, the studies off other wizards are hidden as well, until their owner shows up.” Wallian answered.
“So we’ve been walking next to doors all the time??” Thromn exclaimed, suddenly trying to be more silent.
“Don’t worry. When the door’s hidden, the walls are way too thick to let any sound go out. It was a necessity, as magic experiments can be quite.. Loud.” Wallian answered and continued walking. “Do follow, we’re close to the next floor.” They continued following the mage, however, as Thromn noticed before they never seemed to leave the same floor.
Wallian stopped for a second and turned to the wall. “I wonder..” He whispered and uttered a few arcane words. Surprisingly, the door slowly appeared. He moved his hand closer and slowly opened the door. The room was empty, no sound, no light, apart from a single candle burning in the sconce in a small niche in the far wall.
Dust had gathered everywhere in the room, the party noted. Noone has entered this study for quite a while. Wallian walked to the desk – placed right in the middle – and moved his fingers, gently, over it, gathering quite a bit of dust.
He then turned back and walked out, closing the door and locking it behind him.
“I’ll explain later.” He said and walked briskly away.
They soon came up to a door, richly adorned. “This door leads to the meeting chamber, where Anriel greets her visitors. Take care to not make sounds.” Wallian said and opened the door. The group walked in complete darkness, those unable to see holding hands with those who can. When they reached the middle of the room they heard a loud clap. The magical torches on all sides of this circular room lit up and Anriel and all the other wizards (at least three) dropped their concentration on invisibility spells.
“Good evening.” Anriel started. “We have troublemakers in our tower, it seems. Thanks to you Wallian!”
“Indeed.” Wallian said, moving in a friendly manner towards Anriel, nodding at her and then turning back to the group, now surrounded in the middle of the room. “I did what you asked.”
“I see. Welcome. You lot took longer than I expected, almost fell asleep waiting.” She continued. “Your friend will surely be thankful for the extra time of torture he had to endure.”
“You witch, let him go, or else..” Fjal yelled out loud.
“Or else what? Will you hit me with your axe, dwarf?” She scoffed. “Mere weapons are not enough for this fight. You can try, of course. Just hit me.”
Fjalarr charged but promptly hit an invisible wall, one Wallian seemed to have passed through with no issue.
“You see, you won’t be doing much here.” She laughed again. “Let me show you.” She moved her fingers in a twirl and uttered a few words. Fjal felt as if the wall was closing around him, boxing him up, squeezing the life out of him. They heard terrible cracks of bone when his ribs squeezed together.
“Stop it!” Thromn demanded. “What do you want from us?”
“Nothing really, to be honest. We have Tanithil and he’ll be off great use to us. Though looking at you, your weapons seem useful, might have a decent value on them.” Anriel said and moved her fingers together, Fjal being squeezed again. Anriel laughed aloud again.
“Time to die, troublemakers!” She yelled and then felt a dagger pierce her chest.
“Indeed.” Said Wallian, pulling the dagger out with a great gush of blood.
“How.. how.. Ho..” She tried to speak, but only gouts of blood came out of her mouth. Fjalarr immediately felt the pressure of the invisible cage released and came back in to his fighting stance – hurt, but still managing to stand. The other wizards, those encircling the room, pulled out their wands and started peppering the part with firebolts, missiles and other magical effects.
Fjal already hurt, got hit by a fiery bolt and his skin got seared. He winced at the overwhelming smell and disregarding the pain charged at the closest wizard, axe aimed high. He did hit him squarely in the face, but the wizard managed to deflect the hit with magical force. However, Fjal’s second hit went lower – straight across the man’s knees, so he fell down in agony, unable to stand up again.
Thromn charged at another, his shield in front, deflecting any magical attacks coming. Brigim was right behind him, covering himself behind Thromn’s broad shoulders. The dwarf smashed one of the wizards to the ground and Brigim followed up, pulled his set of daggers, stabbing twice at the now prone caster. Both the hits connected and wizards life faded fast.
“Stop, we need them!” Wallian yelled out. “Don’t kill them!” The dwarves complied, stopping midswing and turning to instead knock the casters out. “If we kill them all, I won’t be able to shield the city all by myself.” Wallian exclaimed.
Syl the walked to the fast expiring wizard Brigim stabbed hard and healed him, just a little bit, to keep him alive (for now).
The rest of the wizards – those who had not yet been hurt – noticed that they little choice – the party outmatched them.
“Anriel underestimated your lot.” One of them said and lowered his hood.
“Thenruil.” Wallian said. “She sure did.”
The tension between the wizards and the group remained.
“So what is your plan exactly? Rush in, murder the members of the guild and live hapilly ever after?” Thenruil asked Wallian and the group. “He used you to get back at Anriel. Has he even told you they were lovers before?” Wallian winced at the words. “He could not stomach the way she ruled though, coward, and their daughter..”
“We’re not supposed to rule.” Wallian stopped the wizard mid sentence. “How many riches have you gathered, Thenruil, by abusing your status?” The accused wizard did indeed looked fancily dressed, with many priceless rings and nicknacks. “Think this is the way famous wizards should be acting, hoarding instead of helping people survive?”
“How dare you accuse me. I’ve only received what I deserved. Without me, without them..” He pointed towards the other wizards. “Without Anriel this city would’ve died months ago.”
“All this story is great and all, but we do give little shit about your arguments. Where is our elf?” Fjalarr walked to Thenruil, axe in hand, ready.
“Ah yes, that wizard. We couldn’t crack him so we had to kill him..” The moment Thenruil said that he felt Fjal’s axe chop nick his shoulder hard, nearly cutting through. He started to scream, but Fjal hit him with the butt of the weapon, knocking him out.
“Is that true?” The furious dwarf asked the other wizards.
“No no, he lied, the elf is in the dungeons. Alive and well. Promise.” One of them stuttered.
“Well now, we have more cooperative ones as well. Lead us to the dungeon.” Fjal demanded.
They passed through a similar corridor like the one they walked getting to the main chamber – not really going higher or lower, but eventually ended up next to a heavily enchanted door. The leading wizard touched the door with his hand and magical locks popped open. The dungeon, as they called it, was a series of magical barriers, cube in shape, separated by thin walls as to block prisoner’s sight from one another.
There was a guard though, inside, looking over the prisoners, three of them, including Tanithil.
“What, who are you??” He exclaimed, looking at the angry dwarves following the wizard. “Val, why are they here?”
“Anriel is dead.” The wizard named Val answered. “Release the elf.” And he pointed towards the magical barrier. The guard complied, circling his hands in an arcane motion. The wall shimmered and disappeared, letting Tanithil walk out.
“I have never been this happy to see a pair of dwarves.” Tanithil smiled. “I’m so glad you came.. This whole situation was quite a nuisance.” He shot an angry look towards the prison guard and walked to the chest, where he knew his spellbook and the rest of the equipment were. Now armed, he walked to the dwarves, still menacing with their weapons. He patted them both on the shaulders.
“Let’s leave this place. We have little to learn here – all of them are frauds.” Tanithil then walked out of the dungeon, turned to the side of the main chamber and walked away, smiling at Syl, Tree and Brigim.
They were glad to be back together.
When Tanithil led the group back to the main chamber, he walked to Anriel’s now dead body, thinking whether to kick it.
“You’re not worth it.” He whispered to himself and turned to the party and other wizards. “They know little about what caused the calamity, I’m afraid. Our search must continue elsewhere. These.. thieves just shielded the city and then demanded tribute, didn’t even bother exploring or contacting other cities. Although I admit the magic behind the shield is fascinating.”
“I can tell you how we did it.” Wallian offered. “We’ll have to rethink our ward placement, but we shall make do without Anriel. And we’ll do better.” He said, looking at the other wizards.
“We will.” They promised.
“So what’s out plan, where we be heading now?” Fjal asked.
“Well.. if you’re looking into the calamity..” One of the wizards, a younger one, spoke out, shyly. “Anriel kept disregarding my opinion, but, but, I worked with forecasting of sorts. The cold came from somewhere south west, I believe. And spread like waves, I bursts first.” The party looked at him, judging how truthful he was. He appeared to be.
“Do show me your research.” Tanithil asked. “Please.” He added.
Tanithil walked to the wizard’s study, taking little caution, because his strong friends were nearby. If the young wizard tried something, he’d soon meet the axe to the face.
“Cladio. My name.” He stammered, leading the way to his study. Tanithil grumbled in response. It wasn’t that he was tortured physically, not at all – it wasn’t the wizard’s way to do so. However, Anriel tried to break him mentally and by breaking him – get a new follower. So Tanithil was unwilling to discuss anything, to listen to anyone at this point.
“Here.” Cladio pointed to the wall, uttered his password and after the door appeared – passed through it. The room was smaller than most – especially compared to Anriel’s study – which Tanithil had to briefly visit, and a lot messier, with papers and charts strewn around the room. The elf started eyeing the papers and was pleasantly surprised – Cladio did indeed do good research.
“So, what have you found?” He asked.
“As I said, bursts of cold, south west.” He stammered. “But I think the cold’s not normal. I detected magic in the waves.” He pointed to the paper, describing odd fluctuations following the initial burst of cold. “It’s either a spell or a being, I’m sure.”
Tanithil had to agree with Cladio’s assessment – if the research was right, of course.
“Big or strong enough to freeze the whole world..” Tani exclaimed.
He came back to the central chamber unnerved. What if Cladio was right and they were walking into danger far beyond any mortal? Even if it were a bunch of evil wizards who’ve done it, they will certainly be far more protected than this tower. And shielding in response is easier, spreading so much magical cold..
“You seem uneasy.” Fjal said.
“You’re right.” Tani said and explained what he had learned to the rest. “We’ll be walking in to greater dangers if we follow that path. And probably even more cold than I can shield with the current iteration of the magical amulets.”
“Are the amulets what you use to fend of the cold? Resistance of some sort to the effects?” Wallian asked. “Anriel worked with abjuration, maybe she has some books that might help you enhance the effect. A lot of books.” He added, noting it would take a while for them to go through it all.
Once the wizards have left, they all stood silently in the central chamber.
“What do we do now?” Brigim asked. “Not much help in research, not much use in magic in general. You there.” He pointed to Cladio. “Have you anything fun to do here? Or maybe even some magical trinkets we could.. Borrow?”
Cladio, the party noticed fast, seemed happy about the change of leadership. He even admitted, while giving a tour of the tower, he hoped something like this would happen. He cheerfully led the group around, showing the magnificence of the interior and the riches they had gathered this past year.
One of the rooms was a trove for the collectibles – vast amounts of gold and items of magical properties, such as weapons, armor and trinkets lay strewn around the room. Brigim walked around, looking for something he could use – and he found something. A pretty jeweled dagger. He picked it up, ran his finger – just slightly – over the edge and saw a droplet of blood seep out. Extremely sharp – just like what he was looking for.
“You can’t keep it.” Syl said out loud. “Most of the things here belong to the people and we must return it all.” Fjal and Thromn nodded in accord. So did Brigim and he placed the dagger back.. At least pretended to, instead slyly shieving it.
“Is everything here stolen?” Fjal asked.
“Only things we did not really need. Some stuff got taken to personal studies.” Cladio said, now in shame.
“Then let’s pack it up and bring it outside.” Thromn motioned to the rest, grabbing a big handful of gear. When morning finally came, the earliest city folk were surprised to see the tower’s doors opening, with unfamiliar faces carrying out precious heirlooms and other items the people thought they lost.
Soon, a great line of people gathered to reclaim their items, thankful to the saviours of Evervale.
Tanithil spent a few days enhancing the cold resistance effect on the amulets and then talking over with Wallian on his plan to secure the city once more. Tani and the rest of the party demanded the city became a shelter for travelers instead of a thieving town and Wallian agreed – this was his intention all along.
The group restocked their supplies, said their goodbyes and left Evervale for now, heading in the general direction to the south west. After nearly a week of respite in the city, the open road was rough travelling again, but at least they weren’t cold whatsoever now.
“Wonder where the other surface people hid when the colds hit. There aren’t that many dwarven holds to the south, and surely not that many settlements have that powerful wizards to shield themselves.” Syl asked the rest, walking.
“There’s one dwarven city, dwarvencityname2, a few hundred kilometers away, might they bunkered up there. We could check, if you all are willing to go a bit off the path.” Fjal answered. “Might learn something from them as well. Dwarfs are not wizards, but still pretty darn good researchers when need rises.”
“They are indeed, at least in digging sciences.” Tani laughed.
“We sure are!” Thromn agreed.
They spent a few uneventful days of travelling, with little to see or do apart from walking, till they saw something up the road. A caravan, broken down and frozen over. They came closer carefully, wary of an ambush – but none came.
With closer inspection they saw multiple bodies, mostly dwarfs, huddled up together, frozen.
“Been here for many months, maybe even since the start.” Tani said. He looked with his elven vision further up ahead. “I see more.”
On the general direction of the dwarven city, seemingly along a great road, they saw and increasing number of caravans of refugees, running away to the general direction of Evervale, probably the closest city from dwarvencityname2. Caravan after caravan were filled with families huddled together, frozen dead.
“There was no way they were going to make, they must’ve known.” Syl said. “But they still went into the cold. Something awful must have pushed them out.”
“I doubt the city buckled in – dwarven cities are tough. So I reckon monsters.” Fjal agreed.
“Perfect.” Rest exclaimed, together.
A week passed of following the trail of caravans, closer and closer to each other. Tree spent most days ahead of them, but returned with no news whatsoever – the road ahead was clear, not a sight of anyone or anything. Eventually, they reached the outskirts of dwarvencityname2, huge gates built straight into the side of a great mountain, who’s peak was covered in heavy snow. Much like everywhere else, no clouds were visible at the top of the mountain, nor anywhere else – just crispy clear sky with a cold sun.
Tree came to them then, quickly shifting out of the tiger form. Her face was sweaty, from the fast pace.
“Giants.” She said, gasping for air. “Frost giants.”
“There’s one just past the gate, a lookout it seems, but I saw many giant footprints around. They obviously venture out often. To hunt, most likely.”
The anger in the faces of the dwarves quickly rose. They both grabbed their weapons and started off towards the gate. The rest had to rush ahead to stop them.
“Please, at least some finesse in this, don’t just rush in.” Brigim begged.
“Bah you pansies are afraid of some giants? We had battled the monsters for many years and many years to come.” Fjal said, shoving the gnome away.
“Any way we could stop them?” Tani asked.
“Not likely.” Syl answered. “But we could do a more sneaky approach from the flank.” So Tree, Tani, Syl and Brigim went off the path, heading towards the gate out of sight, while Fjal and Thromn were rushing straight in.
As soon as they got in range, they started yelling angry shouts to the giant. “Come out, you worthless scum. Come and get my axe, been waiting for you.” The giant did come out from the arc, but surprisingly, he just lifted his arms up and started mumbling in giant. Fjal, who’d some knowledge in that language, stopped for a second, looking mightily confused.
“What’d he say??” Thromn asked, unknowing.
“He said.. Calm, my.. Friends?” Fjal answered, his jaws clenched.
The giant lay his weapon down, a giant axe, twice the height of either of the dwarfs, and walked slowly closer.
“Icver friend of little folk. You shall see.”
The giant turned and started walking towards the gate. “Follow.” he added, once he noticed neither the dwarves moved. “Not far.”
“Think this a trap?” Thromn asked. “Giants aren’t stupid.”
“We’ll see.” Fjal nodded to the side he presumed the rest of his allies were and started walking, his weapon held high.
The passed the gate and could see the structural damage and the toll the cold has taken up close. Not unlike Khog, further in they saw a barricade of sorts, blocking the cold from getting inside. The giant walked to the barricade and knocked a few times, the wall reverberating with each hit.
A few minutes later, a large door big enough for a giant to squeeze through started opening and a dwarf stuck his face out.
“Do come in weary travellers, quickly. Hope Icver didn’t scare you much.” The dwarf asked the two. “Been months since we saw any travellers. You alone?”
“We have friends lagging behind.” Fjal dropped his guard a bit, seeing a fellow dwarf. He then turned towards the entrance and yelled. “It’s safe, come here.”
The rest of the group gathered and together they went through the door.
“I’ll be seeing you later, friends.” The giant said and Fjal translated.
They led the group deeper in, much like in Khog. But what they found was not a thriving community, but a couple dozen refugees, barely scraping to survive. They weren’t deep enough to protect themselves from the cold, so they struggled, some barely alive. Syl saw the state of the people there and rushed to help, mending wounds and healing illnesses, mostly related to frostburn and cough.
“Why aren’t you deeper in?” Fjal asked the dwarf who led them in. “We come from Khog, it wasn’t that bad there..”
“We can’t. We have few fighters left and monsters of all kinds roam in the lower chambers. So we blocked as much of them as possible and stay here.” He answered, visibly tired from fighting. “We weren’t locals here, truth be told. We came upon the caravans,” He looked at the concerned looks. “Probably like you did, and followed them up here. The whole place was abandoned, no corpses or anything.”
“Probably dragged down.” One of the survivors interjected. “Eaten already I tell ya, the beasts below grow hungry as well.”
“But they seem to have left us alone, for now at least.” The dwarf continued. “Might be they hate the cold as well and decided to go lower or raid some other place. So we’re stuck here, getting sicker every day. But we occasionally get travellers, with stories and news from other places. Have anything to brighten our days?”
“Well.. It’s not much different here than further to the north. There’s a city, Evervale, which survived. Shielded from the cold. About a week off here.” Fjal told them.
“How come the giant is helping you, that’s what I wonder.” Thromn asked their guide. “They are usually not the friendliest of monsters..”
“Icver is different than his kind, an exile it seems. But prejudice follows him even in these tough times.. Sadly. But he’s been of great help to us and we’re in no shape to turn down the offer when he just waddled up to our struggling caravan when we were looking for shelter. Me and my whole family.” The dwarf said, pointing to one of the hovels, with a boy and a girl peeking through the window. “Name’s Reifrag, by the by.” And he extended his strong arm towards the two dwarfs.
“Fjalarr and this here is Thromn. That’s Sylelle, Tanithil, Tree and Brigim.” He waved towards each of them when he spoke their names. “Whole party of great and strong fighters, should you need help. We could sort out the monsters below the current complex.”
“And draw more of them next time.” He sighed. “We, sadly, have no future in this city. Was it Evervale you mentioned? We probably should not wait longer and move.”
“If you wait longer, it will only get colder, never warmer.” Tanithil said to the dwarf. “We’ve discerned this with the mages of Evervale. A thaw is impossible.” These news drew a concerned look from Reifrag.
“What about Icver then, would he be allowed in?” He asked, unsure on the path they’d be taking.
“I’m sure they would..” Fjal started, but got cut by Syl. “We will help you get there, right Tani?” The party turned to both of them.
“Because I’ve visited the mage tower, I could teleport you all, in a few days or so, straight up there.” Tanithil said, brightening the mood of the survivors.
And so they did – the party spent the next few days helping the survivors pack and then teleported them to Evervale, where Wallian was happy to greet them indeed (especially some of the survivors had magical skills as well).
When the last of the survivors went through the portal, they all said their goodbyes and promises to someday meet again, Reifrag being the last to go through, well second to last, as Icver now stood next to the portal.
“I stay and help you on your journey.” He claimed. “I feel you’ll need it.”
They had not expected a new companion, especially a giant.
“Why do you say that?” Syl asked him.
“The cold. It feels wrong. Can’t explain. The smell of it is wrong. Not normal.” Icver answered.
“We believe so as well. It’s borne of magic, it appears. And won’t stop coming unless we stop it.” Tanithil said. “But don’t your folk like the cold? How come you’re helping us?”
“They do. And they packed up their homes and left towards..” And the giant pointed south west. “..where the smell is coming from. They did not care how wrong it smelt. I did. I stayed. Was hunting when I saw Reifrag’s cart. Helped push.”
Tanithil thought about giant’s, trying to remember their hierarchy. Giant’s are smart beings, Icver.. not so much. Maybe his less than usual smarts helped him not respond to the call of the cold? Or just his general disposition, as giant’s were usually evil.
“Before all of this, the cold and your friends leaving.. Weren’t you fighting dwarfs and other folk?” Tanithil had to ask, drawing suspicious looks from the group.
“I did not. Icver was ever a friend of all folk, especially tiny beasties.” He stopped for a second. “Leader Rokvyr never liked Icver much.” He admitted.
”Well, seems we’ll be heading to a fight nonetheless..” Brigim whispered..
They stayed the night in dwarvencityname2, aiming to continue their journey tomorrow. Tanithil had spent most of his magic and could not do the dome, so they had to rely on normal means of getting warm – so they lit a fire and huddled together, exchanging stories of travel and life before Khog and the cold. They weren’t friends before, but by now grew quite attached to each other.
They had supper (provided by Tree) and went to rest, with Icver promising to take watch not far from their sleeping place. They hadn’t slept not in sight of the night sky for a few weeks, so they felt somewhat more tired, as the safety quickly took them over and they passed to sleep.
Fjalarr dreamt of his younger years, nigh 50 years ago. He was an apprentice blacksmith at the time, more skilled in using weapons rather than crafting them. He felt nervous, as his final test – one that would lift him to the ranks of a skilled blacksmith was soon. He, as the test demands, was required to craft something special for himself. Armorers would craft special defensive gear, while weaponcrafters, like Fjal, would make weapons of legend – if they did not fail, that is. Few days before the test he (and several other dwarfs on trial) was presented with materials for the crafting. The king showed up, no less, presenting each dwarf a bundle of metals, gems and sheets of magical paper with runes. The smithies were of highest regard within the city, so tradition demanded the king’s participation. And he always agreed, himself being a fine smithy, with his weapons and armor the stuff of legend.
Fjalarr collected his bundle, bowed before the king and retreated to the smithy.
He placed the bundle on the table, unwrapped it. A great chunk of mythril, set of quality tools for ornaments, gems, a parchment with runes. No smithy could ever know what the runes actually meant, because the quality of the enchantment depended on the skill of the smith more than the actual runes, as they changed according to the wishes of the crafter.
Fjalarr knew he would make a solid two handed axe for himself. But he knew not what kind of enchantment he wanted. He never fancied special powers in his weapons, as long as it was a solid weapon. And having mythril guaranteed the quality.
So he started off slowly heating the furnace, melting the slab of metal. He does not up to this day remember how long it took, but some say he labored for days – forming the blade once, but unsatisfied, redoing it again.. And again.. And again. Days later, he was satisfied with the form. He tested the sharpness first, easily cutting his own skin, like butter, then started working on ornaments. As a fighter and a smith, he was a devout follower of Moradin, so he chose his god’s symbol as the primary ornament – an anvil with flames coming out of the top. He took one of the gems, a lightly colored ruby and shaped it into a flame and stuck it above the anvil.
Satisfied, he worked on ornaments on the sides, copying runes on the parchment. This part.. was odd. Every time he tried recounting his choice of runes and their placement, he blanked out, as if time got stolen away from his memory. Some time later, Fjalarr just stood over his axe, neatly decorated. He held the weapon high up, felt some powerful magic in it. He went up to the training dummy nearby, tried swinging the axe. Perfectly balanced, extremely sharp. The dummy never had a chance as the blades sliced it straight across.
Fjalarr inspected the dummy. No apparent burn marks on it, so no elemental enchantment. He threw the weapons straight ahead into the wall, motioning it to come back – nothing happened. He was dumbfounded. He asked a priest for help, to detect the underlying magical powers. The priest took a deep look, moved his hands around the weapon.. and flew across the room, as a big blast hit him like a troll would.
“Moradin’s beard.” He said, standing up. “No clue, I’m sorry Fjalarr. Only thing I can say is what you made is powerful.. very powerful.” So Fjalarr was left with the weapons with still unknown powers. Yet the weapon never failed him in fights, and due to the priests high (albeit mysterious) praises, Fjal was successfully given the title of master smith.
Thromn was being tested the same day as Fjalarr. He got his own bundle, not unlike the one Fjal got, but slightly more metal, as Thromn was an armorer, and a great one indeed. He worked on his own battle armor that day, similarly lost in time, until he ended up with a set of mythril plate armor. Already it was nigh impenetrable armor, as mythril was extremely durable yet light, but the enchantments he made on the armor were even more fascinating.
When Fjal was done, Thromn invited his friend to test the armor. Being quite confident after his own tests, Fjal swung his new precious axe at the target dummy dressed in the new set.. and the blades of the axe slid off.
Perturbed, Fjal tried again and again to the same result – his blade could not break or even scratch the armor.
“It’s nigh impervious to sharp edges. I wove the layers so beautifully.. Somehow.” Thromn told his friend.
“I can make it..” Fjal nonetheless kept saying, attacking the armor in multiple ways, till he got too tired to continue. “Fine, you did well… No make me one.” And they both laughed.
When both the dwarves woke and were preparing for the long day ahead, as if knowing they both dreamt similar dreams, looked at each others mastercrafted items and nodded. They did indeed end up making a weapon and armor, respectively, for each other. So much they worked in tandem, that they already reinforced each other before each battle even took place.
They had many fights together, in Khog, as the city required occasional volunteers for defence of the lower levels. And both Fjal and Thromn were never shy to fight – as the only thing that usually stopped them was the need for them to work the smithies.
One such time was rather early on the calamity. They went in search of a group of scouts that left days before never to return. The scouts were ordered to check the outskirts of the city for possible places to grow mushrooms and other edibles, as the ground on the upper levels was not suitable for anything. So down went the scouts, and several days later, Fjal, Thromn and a score of other fighters.
When troubles began everyone in Khog thought there would likely be noone in the lower parts of the city – no trouble, invaders or anything. It was getting colder there as well, certainly not as much as near the surface, but still. So thinking was orcs and other beasts would dig deeper and leave the city alone. Turns out, quite the opposite happened.
Fjal and Thromn together with the group of dwarfs found the scouts, massacred, with many footprints around. They followed the prints to a large orc camp, where, in the middle of it, a tremendous looking shaman kept singing to the gathered barbarians.
Several dwarfs pieced together the general idea of their song – it was a war song encouraging the orcs to attack the city and finally get rid of the dwarfs, once and for all. So the orcs, surprisingly, instead of digging deeper decided to fight and kill, or at least, push the dwarfs out into the cold. They could not fight the orcs alone – so they turned to return. Luckily for them, during war songs orcs are entranced in the sounds, so they did not notice a band of metal clad warriors not far away.
When they returned with the scout’s bodies back to Khog and gave them proper burial, they started preparing and ambush for when the orcs come. They set up traps and tar pits in the lower levels, brought most of they weaponry there as well, so when the orcs came they rushed into slaughter. Yet many more orcs came afterwards, one band after another for months, and the number of defenders, eventually, started thinning down.
The dwarfs then decided to block many of the lower tunnels, reducing the possible points of attack, as well as the number of required defenders. Yet without the access to the lower tunnels – where most of the mushroom groves were – the city started struggling harder.
The group was now prepared to leave the city proper with Icver in tow. He turned out to be quite familiar with the local areas and could easily direct the group towards the center of the calamity. The group trudged relentlessly through a seemingly increasing amount of snow for weeks, with little in sight. They could feel it – it was growing even colder, albeit the enchantments still held.
They then saw a fire, lit far ahead of them. Tree nodded for them to stay hidden for a bit, turned tiger and went closer. What she found was a group of giants, frost ones, cooking themselves a meal. A giant elk, it looked like. Her tiger mouth watered. She returned to the group and relayed the information.
“How likely they to be friendly, do you think, Icver?” Fjal asked.