[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 56
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COkane8116 at aol.com
Sun Nov 18 22:54:56 CST 2001
At lunch that day a council of war was held in the Lightbringer temple,
as Daria and her scouts related what they had found to Raven and Merai.
As it turned out, Brennar had found the most of any of them. Slowly and
carefully, he described every detail of the guard house he had discovered,
from the markings on the walls to the color of the girl's hair. He was
naturally observant, Daria thought; she had chosen well in sending him in as
their forward scout.
"It sounds like Brennar found the main focal point for the Moranasi
spell," Rick observed. "Once they cast the spell there, they could expand its
range by setting up relays further inside the Keep. Of course, they would
have to enter an area that was still under Kyia's control before they could
expand their spell there, so we have a chance for a surprise attack if we hit
them before their relay is completed."
"How long would it take them to set up a relay?" Merai asked.
Rickkter shrugged. "Six of them, working together ... well, I've never
seen this spell before, but normally a relay would take about ten minutes to
cast. Of course, there is a lot of preparation that has to be done before you
actually cast the spell, but they may have servants to set everything up for
them. That way, they could stay back in the 'frozen' sections of the Keep
until it was time to perform the casting -- Kyia wouldn't be able to sense
their location until they were actually ready to set up the relay."
Daria grimaced. "That doesn't give us much time. By the time Kyia senses
their presence, it will be too late for us to get there."
"Which just means we'll have to know where they're going before they get
there," Jessica said.
"Which means more sneaking around," Bradfox muttered.
"Agreed." Daria took a bite of her sandwich, chewed thoughtfully for a
few moments, and swallowed. "We'll have to keep watching the perimeter of the
Enemy's territory, I suppose -- watch for any suspicious activity, people
setting up magical equipment. I don't see what else we can do, under the
"I'll track down Misha and let him know what to look for," Daria offered.
"He told me how to find him if I needed to."
"We may also be able to capture some enemy soldiers for interrogation, if
we're careful," Rickkter said.
"A good idea, but that may be a little out of our specialty," Garulf
said. "All this cloak-and-dagger business is more the Longs' area of
"Good point," Daria agreed. "Rick, David, why don't you two work with the
Longs to try and find someone to interrogate. We can use the Key to fashion a
holding cell for our guest, when the time comes. The rest of us will take
shifts scouting the front lines -- the Enemy's sections of the Keep are
mostly frozen now, anyway, so there are only a limited number of ways for
them to get in or out. Gods willing, we should be able to find these Shadow
Bringers before they expand their control any further."
"One question," Brad said, raising a hand. "I don't mean to rain on
anybody's festival, here, but what do we do when we _find_ these Shadow
Bringers? If these are the terrible, sinister, unimaginably powerful bastards
you make them out to be, can we really beat them?"
There was silence around the circle. All eyes turned to Raven.
"We can," she said at last. "Not alone, perhaps, but I am confident that
we will be able to secure divine aid for the battle. Lord Dokorath has a
long-standing vendetta against the Moranasi; with his help, we shall be
Brad took a long drink from his wine. "Let's all pray that you get it,
Berchem and three other Glenners were waiting outside Lars' brewery for the
three Sondeckis. It was still mostly dark out, and the entire grove was
shrouded in a pale twilight, the littering snow strangely luminescent. The
archers were equipped with long bows strung over their shoulders, and quivers
lined with smooth feathered arrows at their sides, that they might reach them
easily. Their faces had been powdered haphazardly white, making it hard to
notice them when they stood against the trunks of the trees.
The skunk waved the three Sondeckis over with one paw, and they quickly
stepped through the low snow. The winds had buffeted much of the snow to the
sides of the grove, leaving the area around the hillside mostly free from the
accumulation. Drifts climbed the trunks of the trees, as if to swallow them
and bear them down to the earth. Charles held his arms close to his chest
and the thick tunic that he now wore. They'd had to leave the Sondeckis
robes behind, as they were the wrong colour for this kind of weather. Though
it was still night, it would be dawn soon, and they would be visible to any
The clothes they had been given were thick, and fit relatively well, though
Jerome found it amusing that he'd had to borrow some of Lars' own shirts just
to fit over his chest. The Sondeckis had told the others that if he were to
become a bear, he'd be enormous. Even so, the breeches were a bit loose on
him, and he gripped the belt that held them up tightly with one hand every
now and then. Their faces were just as Charles's, smeared with the white
dust, to obscure their natural colours. They were three ghosts walking
silently in the barren winter wastelands, their only life capture din the
intensity of their eyes.
Charles gave the skunk a brief smile as he approached, his red tongue
pressing against the back of his large teeth. He'd long since grown accustom
to being covered in dusts and dyes, being a Long had taught him as much, so
its chalk-like scent did not bother him. He felt a bit of sympathy with the
mephit though, for nearly his entire body had to be dusted with flour. Every
time his tail flitted from side to side, a miniature snow storm erupted from
"Where's Burris?" Charles asked, as he scanned about for the woodpecker who
was to burn the bridge.
Berchem pointed upwards into the branches far above and then winked. "He'll
watch us from above, and alert us if any Lutin parties are about. We should
be able to walk along the ground the entire way. The Lutins appear to be
staying close to the roads. We should not run into any unpleasant company on
our journey until we near the bridge."
"Good, I'd rather we not run into any opposition until then." Charles then
glanced back at the two humans standing behind him. "This is Jerome, and that
is Krenek. We are at your disposal."
Berchem nodded and then pointed to the three Glenners who had accompanied
him. "Good, I was wondering what your names were. I'm called Berchem in case
you had not heard, and this is Ralph, " he gestured to the stout vole who was
missing a tooth, "Anson," a lithe arctic fox who had not needed any powder,
"and Baerle." The last almost appeared to be a rat, judging by the long tail,
but it was white, and not grey, and her teeth were sharp instead of
protruding as Charles's were. It took Matthias a moment to realize that the
young, female Glenner was an opossum. She saw the rat staring at her, and
flashed him a smile that dimpled her furry cheeks. Matthias quickly turning
away, trying not to let his blush show through his drooping whiskers.
"Well, now that we know who everyone is, shall we be off?" Charles asked,
thumbing the button of his surcoat.
Berchem nodded, and pointed off towards one corner of the Glen, "Once we pass
out of this grove, speak quietly if you must speak at all. I will lead us
down the path. As my men are archers, I would ask that you three cover out
flanks and rear while we walk. Can you climb?"
This last was asked of all of them, but Charles spoke for them. Ever since t
hey had arrived at Glen Avery, the rat found himself their voice. He idly
wondered if Jerome and Zagrosek were nervous about being surrounded by so
many animal-men. "We've been trained to climb most surfaces. Though it has
been stone in the past, trees are hardly more of a challenge."
The skunk weighed the answer, but decided against debating that generality.
"If we find ourselves surrounded by their army, just follow us into the
trees. We'll climb too high for them to follow, or observe from the ground
and lose them that way. We shouldn't have to, but we shouldn't be forced to
destroy our own bridge either."
Charles nodded glumly at that. He'd never been along the road as far as the
Giant's Dike. He had been north of the Dike of course, the raid to Stepping
Rock being the foremost instance in his mind, but they had followed a path
through the hills on the eastern side of the valley. And now, he followed
after the artificially white skunk into those unknown northern hills. The
trees closed about them very quickly, casting them into a deep darkness,
though not one impenetrable to his night vision. Despite Berchem's
admonition not to speak once they left the grove, none of the travellers said
a word at all, and so, in the still calm of a forest gripped by the frost of
winter, they marched into areas that none of the Sondeckis had ever trod.
Wistfully, he tried to spot the path through the trees that Misha and he had
traversed while in animal guise to spy on the Lutins in the ravine between
Mount Kalegris and Mount Nuln over half a year ago. Yet, it was lost in the
shrouds of his memories, and obscured by the lay of the winter land. Should
he spend enough time at Glen Avery, he was sure he could retrace his tracks,
but for now, it would simply have to remain a memory. There had been
something almost magical about that trek into the thick of the woods, into
gulches and up to the rise of the hills to overlook the mountains yonder as
the sun began to shine its first rays upon those lofty peaks. He had to
wonder how many more such vistas would he have beheld had he become a scout
as soon as he arrived at Metamor, instead of hiding from himself at the
And then, he thought of the grey-eyed fox who had been his mentor in the
Longs. In the last eight months they had grown rather close, spent a great
deal of time together, and had found deep friendship. Yet, their last words
to each other had been heated, and ultimatum's had been delivered. He did
not want to see everything he had begun to build here at Metamor fall apart.
The worst bit of it was, none of it would ever have happened had that
Kankoran not shown up.
His heart beat faster as he trudged through the snow, his eyes scanning the
long, thick trunks that pierced the sky above. When he'd helped Christopher
destroy that small Lutin band back at the end of March, he'd thought his life
had been destroyed - he'd come within inches of striking the Duke himself
because of it. Yet that had only been the rat's rehabilitation, and the
rediscovery of who he really was, a warrior. And then, just as he was coming
to accept that new aspect of his life, that blasted Kankoran arrives,
brandishing a Sondeshike, and turning everything on its ear.
The list of things that would be better if that man had never come to the
Keep were endless, as far as Matthias was concerned. Though he would not now
have the Sondeshike he held in one paw, at times it felt as if it had caused
more trouble than it was worth. It had nearly destroyed his friendship with
Misha, a fact that gnawed at his heart as he would gnaw on chewstick. Yet,
what else could he do about it now? There did not appear to be any answers
to that question, which only made the rat more sullen.
And then, he felt a prickling sensation on the back of his neck. Glancing to
one side, he noticed that the opossum Baerle was idly watching him as they
walked only an ell or so apart. Anson was further past her, while Jerome was
some distance away. Zagrosek of course was in the rear, turning to look
behind them every few steps. Ralph followed closely behind the white skunk,
an arrow knocked in his bow, though he held it loosely in his small brown
paws - though they were about all of him that was his natural colour.
They each of course kept each other in sight so as not to get too far apart.
In case the Lutins suddenly attacked - though that was not likely, as every
once in a while he could see a small, dim shadow fly overhead - they would
need to draw closer together to protect each other's backs. Yet, Charles
felt as if the young archer was keeping more of an eye on him than she needed
to, and he was not sure why. As he peered back at her, she gave him a
'and-what-are-you-staring-at' look. The rat, forced his eyes from her, and
back to the trees about him, the sharply curved hills, and the shadows that
lay all around. For some reason, he felt like she was laughing at him, and
he didn't know why.
Thankfully, the storm had died off in the night, and so only the occasional
snowflake descended past their snouts to join its already fallen brethren.
This let them move rather quickly through the meandering path that Berchem
chose, winding in and out of clusters of trees, snow drifts, and the
occasional pile of large rocks that had tumbled down from the western
mountains in earlier generations. Upon their tired and worn surfaces, clung
various lichens and moss, though most of it was shrivelled, long since dead
from the cold. Every so often, a patch would stand out, only the barest of
snow upon them as they held onto the sides of the boulders, making it appear
to be a mosaic that had been painted, or a menhir chiselled by a forgotten
hand in a forgotten time.
The lay of the land turned downwards, and Charles noticed that the hills
along either side of them began to slope upwards, as they winded between
them, always taking the route that led down into the gulches, and into even
deeper shadows. Soon, as the mountains pressed closer to their left, they
found themselves striding into narrow chimneys through the rock, forcing them
to stand side by side, and sometimes single-file. For some reason, Baerle
had trouble staying on her side of the pass as they walked, continuously
bumping into his shoulder, and accidentally poking his round ear with the tip
of her long bow slung across her back.
At the very least, the snow drifts had been swept out of most of these
chimneys, or had simply not fallen into them at all, as they collected
overhead, the roots of trees dangling out over the shallow precipices that
they descended through. Glancing up once, he saw Burris perched on one of
those roots, his long beak turning this way and that about the landscape
before he launched himself into the chill twilight air. Of course, when he
took off, he dislodged the snow collected on that branch, and it had fallen
onto the rat's head. He grimaced and swallowed his pride as he brushed the
flakes off, while Baerle chuckled beneath her breath. His grimacing stare
only made her try harder to suppress her mirth.
When they finally emerged from that chimney of course, Charles rather
adroitly switched sides with Jerome, placing Anson between himself at the
rather vexatious opossum. The fox's wintry blue eyes, cold and flecked with
white about the slit pupil, appeared to try to say something to him, but
Matthias was not sure if he wished to know. Looking back at the tube through
the rock, he could see Zagrosek stepping out of its dark embrace and back
into the dim twilight that surrounded them even in the more open portions of
the woods. The Sondeckis flashed him a quick grin and a nod, before peering
once more backwards.
Berchem stopped a short while after that as they came to a cluster of hills
that lay low against the wall of mountains that had grown ever closer to
their left. The trees were thinning, not nearly as large as their giant
brethren back in the Glen, and also permitted more of the faint glow that was
brightening on the Eastern horizon. To their right the land continued to
descend a short ways, then began to climb steeply higher before it spilled
out into the northern reaches of the Valley. To their North, the Dragon
mountains began to curve, boxing them in on two sides, tall, angry peaks
rising up in protest of their journey.
Turning to face the others, the skunk held out his paws, and motioned for
them to stop. They had reached a slight depression, and, as they had been
walking for at the very least two hours, almost certainly the end of the
first leg of their journey. Scanning those hills all around them, he could
see through a thicket of bushes a small frozen lake half covered in snowfall,
the rest blown up onto the banks by the winds. Even as he thought of them,
they came as if summoned, buffeting his fur and streaming it back over his
face. But the powder held fast to his fur, and the elements gave up their
battle only moments later.
Circling down from the sky, Burris landed in the small copse of trees with
the seven travellers, and began to shift back into his normal form.
Strangely enough, his beak, which was already rather long and pointed,
appeared to grow first, carrying the rest of him upward, as if it was only
expanding to suit the weight of its heavier burden. Finally, bright red
feathers clearly visible, and his plumage neat and orderly, the woodpecker
glanced over the rest of them, and then turned to the skunk. "The gorge
starts only ten minutes Northeast of here. I haven't seen any Lutins, or
their hounds patrolling this area, so it should be safe to proceed when you
"Has the sun risen?" Berchem asked, crossing his arms before his tunic, which
had been dusted with the flour as well.
"In another half hour I believe. The storm clouds are mostly to the South
now, but there is a thick fog covering many of the hills to the East. It
will probably give us some trouble spotting any Lutin forces when we do run
across them." Burris's beak dipped into his chest feathers and picked at them
for a moment before his small eyes regarded the rest of them. "You have made
better time than we had anticipated."
"One always does, when there is no trouble," Berchem added, as if quoting a
maxim. He then looked to Ralph , his dark eyes capturing the vole's
attention immediately. "Would you and Jerome go with Burris to find a path to
Ralph nodded his thick head, his brown paws tightening about the stout pine
of his bow. "You'll never know we were gone." The vole smiled proudly and
then gazed up nearly two feet to the massive Sondeckis who lumbered easily
through the snow after him, flexing each of his fingers one by one. Burris
hopped along after them, shifting to a smaller form in mid hop, and then
swooping up to perch on the Sondeckis's shoulder. Jerome looked at the
woodpecker curiously, but could only sport a wry grin as he disappeared into
the fold of the white hills.
Charles stepped over to Anson, thumbing his belt idly, ready to simply wait
for the three to return, but soon heard the skunk calling his name. "Charles,
would you and Baerle climb up those hills and watch for the sunrise? I don't
want to enter the gorge until then. Lord Avery's forces will be leaving with
"And the plan will work best if we both reach the bridge at the same time, I
know," Charles finished for Berchem. "We'll keep a sharp eye out for any
Lutins while we're up there too."
End part 56
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