The Scours were bound, including the werebear Thiridea, and Fel took Kallista aside.
“We bury them up to their necks and leave them in the snow.”
Kalista was shocked, “Torture them? Leave them to their death? No! I’m not doing such a heinous thing.”
Fel was momentarily silenced.
“Let us see if Kentos’ spirit will allow us to take the book,” Kalista changed the topic.
They walked through the barrow in the harsh white light of Kalista’s Lumos spell. Rough hewn stone all around and not one of the black smokey forms of the wraiths. Until they came to the chamber of the giant-slayer.
“You can take the book but touch nothing else,” said the spirit gravely. Its hand touching the long sword of bone at its hip.
They both nodded then edged into the room. Fel carefully picked his way around the spear that lay across the sarcophagus. It was a massive weapon. Fel could scarcely get his hand around the haft if he had tried and the blade was like a full bastard sword mounted on the end. It shed power and dim light but Fel was not tempted. He had no love of weaponry.
Touching the book the leather was soft and smooth. He eased it from the carved stone satchel of the ancient hero. In his hands it felt heavy but when he scanned it with Detect Magic there was no enchantments. The book was mundane, per se, even if it did contain a ritual of never-ending winter.
When Fel turned back to Kalista the wraith was gone and he felt an emotion being sent. Kalista seemed to be feeling something too. Thanks.
They left the barrow and met with Herath, Don and Aenir. Kellor was still unconscious and his face bloody.
“We have it so let’s set camp and so we can rest and read it,” Fel said.
“At least let us scout the are before we start that.” The shepherd boy said.
Herath nodded and they went together through the deep snow. They had gone perhaps 300 yards when to the south Don’ heard the rattle of armor. They stalked towards the sound and dropped behind a snow drift. Figures were probing the ice of a small lake. Six of them, four lean dark hobgoblins out front in light armor, and two hefty stout orks, Tharkhor, behind in sooty-grey half-plate.
“That’s not good,” Herath said.
They slinked back and ran to the others.
“Orks. Pack your things, we are leaving!” Herath said loudly.
Felghanis and Kalista bit back their fear. Both were spent of their magical energy and desperately needed to recoup before they could face orks. There was chaos as everyone ran about gathering their gear.
“Leave them for the orks,” Aenir said bitterly.
“No. We take them,” Kalista was emphatic. “I’ll not have their deaths at the hands of orks or Garren on my conscience.”
She knelt by Kellor. There was a scrap of mana left and she fuelled a healing spell with that last piece of soul-fire. He stirred but did not wake. The doughty dwarf’s skull was covered again on the left side but the ear was gone and it left a mass of scar-tissue.
Felghanis sighed but he had a plan. He touched the two prisoners, Goran the rapier wielder, and Frellan the ordained scour, dispelling the blindness curse he had laid on them.
“I can see. Please don’t leave us to die,” Goran pleaded.
“Why were you sent to the Barrow?” Fel demanded.
“To retrieve a book.” Goran’s answer was clearly sincere and on further questioning by Fel it was obvious he knew nothing of the nature of the book.
Fel’s heart softened at Goran’s naiveté. “Carry your wounded,” Felghanis ordered and he removed the bonds from their legs.
It was hard going in the snow, carrying unconscious bodies. Aenir had Kellor across his shoulders like a lumberjack had a log. Frellan and Felghanis carried the Thiridea. Whilst Goran lugged Willem, their hardy guisarme guard, in the same fashion as Aenir. Herath scouted ahead and picked a direction. His keen senses used to the wintery scape. Don’ covered their tracks away from the barrow. It was not worth the time to cover the battle but at least it would be harder for the orks to track them past the barrow.
They had gone quite a distance, perhaps a mile, when bellows and the clash of steel reached their ears. Everyone stopped and took heaving breaths. They felt safer knowing the orks had encountered something.
“It must be Garren on the warpath for revenge.” Donallhan’s voice had a creeping fear in its tone.
“Then let us put more distance between,” Herath called back.
So they did. Pushing their march, Herath led them back towards the coast. One less direction the Garren could approach from. However, the wind was bitter and icy so they kept within the tree line.
The camp was set and the fire kept as small as they dared. Herath and Don’ built up snow walls about their campsite. It would reflect a bit of heat and hopefully reduce the distance the fire could be seen from. Kellor, Thiridea and Willem were all still unconscious. Felghanis called everyone out of the camp.
“We bury them up their necks…” he began.
“No. I’m not doing that,” Kalista cut him off.
“At least we slay the werebear. I don’t want to fight her again,” Aenir was stern. “She can blink or teleport or whatever it’s called. As soon as she awakes she’ll be free whenever she chooses.”
“I had forgotten this,” Kalista murmured looking at her feet.
“We give them weapons and leave them to their fate, then. Right now,” Aenir went on. “By the time they’re all free we’ll be long gone.”
“Maybe,” Don’ said. “The priest, Frellan, he seemed more amiable than the others.”
“Yes, why don’t we bring him here and talk to him?” Kalista beamed.
Frellan stood in his bonds glancing about. He was a handsome man with a powerful natural presence. Everyone’s eyes kept falling on him and they didn’t even realise.
“Perhaps I can suggest something?” Frellan tested the waters after the party back-and-forth came to no resolution.
They looked on, listening.
“You leave us with one day of food each and leave right now. Thiridea will almost certainly want to pursue but with little food we’ll have to go back and retrieve our packs or starve. That should give you at least a two day head-start.”
“Still say we should cut her throat before she wakes up,” Aenir grumbled but he couldn’t meet Frellan’s eyes.
“Don’t kill her, please. You’ll have her superior, Jonas, come looking for you. He’s far more powerful. I can see you’re good folk. You don’t deserve the fate that Jonas would put on you if you killed Thiridea.
“Jonas, is he a werebear too?” Fel asked, a sneer creeping on to his face.
“They are from the chapter of Inquisition Exarcanum, called Ursa Bellor, the bears of war.”
Felghanis nodded. He had suspected as much but he didn’t know for sure until now.
“What are the duties of the Ursa Bellor?”
“They wage war on the foes of the Inquisition Exarcanum. Demons, necromancers, witches. Those who use magic to corrupt or counter the Saint’s works, or threaten the faithful.”
It made sense to Fel that werebears were used in this chapter. Unwaveringly good and very powerful they would be great soldiers for the cause of the Inquisition. It seemed to him that they were afflicted with their type of lycanthropy as part of joining the chapter. He said as much.
Frellan countered, “It is a great honor to be asked into the Ursa Bellor. Few ever are approached.”
“What about you? What section are you from?”
“I am from the Inquisition Exarcanum. My dedication to the destruction of the wakeful dead gained my invitation. I loathe the undead and will destroy them wherever they may be.”
They talked more at length about the structure of the church. How the Inquisition Exarcanum answers only to the Inquisitor and the Living Saint directly. Frellan was sincere and listened well. Felghanis and Kalista shared the party’s story. When they brought up the Prelate of Dwarf Town and his apparent trucking with demon stone ships Frellan was suddenly stern.
“How could you make up something like that? It’s too absurd to think that is a lie you expect me to believe. I have to believe it is the truth and I will lead the Inquisition there to investigate. The Prelate will not get away with such acts.”
“We’ll leave you with two days food each,” Kalista said. “And you’ll recommend that Thiridea return you all to your packs.”
“One day. Two days is enough that she might think she can force-march us to catch up with you. Willem will still be too wounded for that. I want to make sure we can live and get back to Vrim.”
They shared looks, Fel, Kalista, Don’ and Aenir. Vrim was where they planned to head.
“One day, then, and you’ll have some weapons so you’re not helpless.”
“I suggest you do this now,” Frellan urged. “Thiridea recovers quickly and she may be regain consciousness in the next few hours.”
“Well, I for one don’t want to fight her again and face the possibility of being hunted down by a bigger and badder were-bear,” Aenir said in a hiss.
It was decided and the party left the Scours to the fate that Frellan had suggested. Don’ led the party into the Greywynd Woods. Heading south-east to throw off the idea of pursuit. But they circled around after a mile or so and headed northwards of where the Scours were left. Setting camp was done again and they settled into their watches – tired but resolute.
Soft snow had been falling all night. Occasional gusts swirled it like mist and Felghanis had kept the book in his pack – which he insisted on wearing, or keeping beside him, all night. Now he was on watch with Herath. It was the coldest part of the dark night, just before the sun would rise and he felt bolstered with the recovery of magical energy he had.
As they kept watch, Herath and Fel would walk about the camp, close in on the fire while the other was on the edge. Herath was watching Fel head to the fire. The fire that wasn’t crackling or hissing with the recently added wood. A sudden sinking fear hit his guts as Herath realised he could not hear a thing.
That was when an arm, clad in chain, seized him around the neck from behind. Herath struggled but whomever it was had him tight and the pressure suddenly surged on his neck. The hunter lost consciousness.
Felghanis rubbed his hands together and caught movement out at the snow walls. A heavily built man in chain was dropping the limp form of Herath to the snow. For all Fel knew Herath might be dead. Then he recognised the hard face of Fenris. The traitor, tomb-robber, stalked towards the slim necromancer. He tried to speak, held out his hands to placate the advancing soldier, but he was within the effect of a Silence spell. That was when Fenris jumped on him. Gods he was fast and strong. Fel couldn’t resist. Try as he might Fenris just seemed to wrap him up like a snake might coil about a rat. In desperation Fleghanis seized Fenris’ arm and hit him with negative energy; his Charnel Touch. The soldier’s body jumped at the sensation and then his arms squeezed on Fel’s neck. To the young necromancer it felt like the world rushed away.
Barking awoke the others. Fionnghal was causing a ruckus. Don’s adrenaline surged and he leapt to his feet with a spear ready. A figure was trapped in the flailing roots of Fionnghal’s Entangle. Don’ hurled the spear but his depth perception hadn’t adjusted and it went wide. Aenir was up and moving towards Fel & Herath. The hunter was choking on his own tongue and the dwarf quickly pulled it free with his dagger’s scabbard. Kalista rolled out of her bedroll and also leapt to the aid of those on guard. She healed Felghanis and his eyes fluttered open.
“Fenris,” he rasped, his voice raw from the crushing choke that had knocked him out.
It was too late, though, Fenris had broken out of the dog’s spell and had fled into the cold darkness. They quickly assembled and used potions on Herath. Kellor was awake, too, and Aenir barely had time to grasp forearms with his battle-brother before Don’ and Herath declared Fenris untrackable.
“The snow was not even disturbed,” Don’ said a little awe-struck.
“The man is a ghost in the ice,” Herath said. “He must have magic.”
Kalista brewed on this thought. She had been ruminating on the formula for Traceless Passing, but that covered scent, too. “The dog,” she cried triumphantly. She quickly held up the piece of bear fur and cast the spell Speak with Animals.
“Can you track the man, Fionnghal?”
The dog was excited, “The hunt is on. We track and chase. But not close. Dangerous man. Bit the hunter, and he fell. Then bit the dark man, and he fell, too. Scent fresh. We chase!”
They broke camp as fast as they could. The pursuit of Fenris hot on their hearts. In less than an hour it was a grey winter’s day.
Light was about them, as much as it could be, and Don’ exclaimed, “I see him!”
They doubled their pace and it became apparent that so had Fenris. Soon Fionnghal was arcing to the east and west, as if Fenris knew they were tracking him and then they came upon their own tracks.
“Careful,” Aneir warned. “He might be leading us into an ambush.”
“He’s only one man,” Don’ said. “We have nothing to fear with all of us together.”
“I hope you’re right.” Fel countered. “You saw what he summoned out of the depths. What if he summoned that?”
There was no way to argue against the necromancer’s point, so they pushed on. Fatigue grew in their limbs and they were all tired.
“There,” Don’ suddenly pointed.
After crossing a hundred yards of snowy forest they saw it. A sack tied to a branch about seven feet from the ground. It held a rectangular shape. To Fel’s eyes it looked about right to be their hard-won book of Fimbulwinter.
“No,” Felghanis said in disbelief and amusement.
He led them to the sack and gingerly untied it. Opening the hessian away from his body he was relieved nothing issued forth. Inside he found the book and carefully he began to check its condition. There was little wrong with the volume. It was obviously read and the pages a little worn at the edges as if someone had rapidly thumbed through the thing. In the fly page a hastily scrawled note read in charcoal:
“I needed to read it. I have no qualms with you but if you pursue me I will kill you.”
It was signed with a glyph of a wolf’s paw.