January 11, 2016
The snow had hammered them through the night. If they had been in the open without a fire, things could have been close, which begged the question how would the next night go and how many more nights would there have to be?
Jack doubted anyone had gotten much sleep and as he kicked the snow off his backpack, he took in the mountain pass stretching before them. Maybe a foot of new snow had fallen. With the patches of ice concealed, the way could prove slow and arduous.
Turning back to his team, he found them clutching at their blankets while trying to hover as close to the fire as possible. Unlike him, they were all lowland jungle folk. He doubted any of them had even seen snow. They each looked equally miserable and he remained half surprised that they weren’t already headed back to warmer climbs.
“I hope those Lava Dragons live up to their names somehow,” Stalker griped. “It would be nice to warm up somehow, even if it is in their stomachs.”
“Maybe we should just get going,” Jack suggested. “The walking will help warm us up.” With plenty of bell-aching and stiff movements, the small group wolfed down some cold jerky and gathered their meager gear in order to press on.
* * *
They had marched past midday. The toll on their bodies was epic. The higher elevation caused the air to thin and each footstep through the snow became more and more difficult. Shoulder straps and weapons weighed heavy on them. They rarely spoke other than to beg for a rest every hour or so. Still there was never any relief from the driving wilds and bitter chill.
They had just crested a ridge that had taunted then for the last two hours. As he reached the top, Jack was taken back to the massive valley the stretched between ice covered towers of black rock. It was beautiful in its own way, but might just be enough to seal their doom.
He was just searching for a place were they could try to survive the night, when Tynilia shouted his name and pointed ahead of them.
“Look, Jack, look!”
He hadn’t noticed it before, but in the far distance inky smoke could be seen spiraling into the air. The mountains before them blocked any view of where the smoke might be originating from, but since the Lava Dragons must have gotten their name for some reason, he figured this had to be a good sign.
“Finally, we’re catching a break” he said, but then, as if to contradict his words, the mountains began to move. At first he thought that if could be an avalanche or an earthquake, but then he saw living creatures emerging from where they had hidden within the snow.
They were tall fierce looking half-beasts. Long bone white hair hung from every inch of the forms. Fanged teeth the size of fingers protruded from their mouths when they opened to issue a terrible roar. Long raking talons topped their fingers and dug into the snow as the rushed toward them. He guessed that they could be as many as forty.
To be continued next Monday
January 4, 2016
They remained quiet as they put the miles behind them. Jack felt cold for the first time since he had arrived on this strange world and could see thick lead colored clouds dropped waves of snow onto the peaks rising before them.
Within two hours they marched through an area that had received a light dusting of snow. An hour after that, snow began to fall upon them. The flacks were large and looked dry. Like feathers of ice, they drifted on the slight breeze. He still felt warm enough, but knew that once the sun set they could be experiencing new sets of challenges. Not the least of which was the very real danger of moving past the tree line and being in a region where making a fire would prove difficult.
When they reached a rocky area what gave the marginal shelter, Jack said, “Alright folks let’s hold up here.”
The group came to a stop and some of them sat on the icy stones.
“I think we need to all gather some fire wood and strap it too our packs in any manner possible. We’ll be hard pressed tonight without it and who knows how many more days travel it may be.”
Stalker snarled. “My gear is heavy enough and now I’m supposed to lug wood like an old maid? Do we even know where we are going or how to find these beasts?” He threw up his hands. “And oh yes, don’t forget that anyone who has attempted to communicate with these Lava Dragons has been eaten alive. So we are either going to wander over these filthy hills until we freeze to death, or be burned alive by the dragons and frankly I think I would prefer the latter.”
“What would you have us do?” Tynilia said, her voice sounded loud amongst the smothering snow. “The Darken may have almost reached our village by now. We are their only hope.”
He tiffed, “They could scatter into the forest, which is what we should be doing. They can’t find any of us in the vast jungles of the world.”
Jack spoke up. “And then what give Darken your world? Once he owns it he won’t give it up and with each passing month, he will only be growing stronger. Are you willing to curse your future generations to being hunted and enslaved?”
He gazed toward the snow beneath his feet for a moment, before kicking a stone. “Won’t matter if we don’t have any future generations.”
Shadowknife said, “Perhaps we should refortify our intentions. We each know what sort of mission this was when we set out. We may have experienced harder trails that he had anticipated, but no one had thought the quest would be a simple one.”
Silence ruled them for a moment until Jack broke it. “Hell, this isn’t even my world, but I what us to keep going. Any Darken left alive makes them all stronger. Each one I stop or kill makes us all stronger. We had to start drawing the line somewhere. For you this is it.”
Huth stood up. “I will continue the quest.”
“As will I,” Shadowknife said.
Tynilia looked from face to face. “Part of me likes the idea of hiding away in a forest, as long as that Dylla isn’t around, but I feel a duty to see this through. One way or another with need to take this to the end.”
“It’ll be our end alright,” Stalker said, “But let’s get some damn wood. I’d rather not spend my last night on earth freezing my nuts off.”
As Jack led them to a small cusp of wood, the snow increased. Soon they would be hard pressed to see the thin trail that led through the mountains. With a sigh he gathered more wood, but started to look for a shelter. I would be the first of many long nights.
To be continued next Monday