Chapter the Thirty Eighth: Murder Most FoulTrudging through the snow in a thin, overly flamboyant, worn-out old dress was certainly not my idea of fun. Virgil chuckled at me near constantly as the damn thing caught on rocks and twigs, or just dragged a good layer of snow with it. I thought more than a few times about changing out of the it, but it was so cold that I didn't want to remove the only clothing I had on in order to put on something warmer. Not to mention the leather coming out of my pack would be absurdly cold by now and I didn't relish the idea of warming it up. The whole thing put me in a rather surly mood.
Even as I was thinking about doing it anyway my eye caught sight of the most peculiar thing. There was a light blue bunny, a sizeable one, hopping his little way through the snow. I'd never seen a blue bunny before, and it seemed odd to find one hopping around amidst the snow. Most bunnies in snowy habitats had white fur. I approached it rather curiously, thankful it was a bunny and not a rat.
As I stepped nearby to it, however, something incredible happened. Its fur rapidly changed to a medium brown hue and antlers the size of my axe sprouted out of its head. It stood up on its back legs, growing upward with astounding speed. Its front legs thickened and stretched out, forming into arms as the legs it stood on raised it higher and higher into the air. At last the horrible beast stared at me, snarling. I knew immediately that I had come face to face with the Stillwater Giant and it was no myth.
It swiped a gnarled claw at me before I could get out of the way, raking clean across my shoulder and chest. Blood began pouring out, staining the dress and the snow beneath me, and still the beast wouldn't relent. Another clawed hand lashed out at me but the pain had brought me to my senses and I was ready for a fight. I deflected its claw with my shield, letting the force of its strike carry me sideways. My feet quickly adapted to the motion, and I spun around to the creature's side, burying my axe in its hip.
It roared furiously, making a sound so horrendously loud that the ground quaked and the snow shook off of the trees surrounding us. Undaunted, I continued my assault. I cleaved the beast around the knees and, in another series of strikes, lopped one of its antlers off. I danced fully behind the creature as it tried to turn on its wounded knee and I brought my axe down upon the upper half of its spine.
My strike landed at just the right angle to not only shatter the creature's spine instantly, but to fully cleave through bone and flesh. As I followed through with my powerful swing the axe separated a large portion of the giant's torso from the rest of its body in a disgusting spray of crimson. Not even the legendary Stillwater Giant could survive an assault such as that, and the remaining pieces of its body slowly fell to the ground, staining the snow.
I strongly considered skinning the beast and taking its pelt, but alas... I no longer had any use for it. Nevertheless, it seemed a shame to let such a thing go to waste.
I pulled out my trusty old dagger and began the process, as grim as it was. I had more than a little practice with sewing as well, so I was able to patch up the several grievous wounds I had inflicted upon it during our battle. If anything, they lended a peculiar veracity to any tales I might tell in the future about it, unlike the tales told by the late H.T. Parnell. Frederick's really going to love this pelt, I just know it.
Although I could've stuffed the pelt into my sizable purse alongside my armor, I decided instead to take my suit of leather out and take advantage of the warmth that combat had provided me. Virgil and Vollinger averted their eyes while I quickly changed into my leather armor, which was every bit as cold as I'd been expecting it to be. Luckily, my blood was still pumping furiously from the excitement of battle and I was able to shrug off the cold in moments. It would be better in the end this way. The three of us plus Terry continued on to the mountain pass.
The local wildlife, however, was not tolerant of my presence. I regretted having to kill them but I didn't have much other choice if I wanted to keep their teeth from my flesh. It shames me to admit it, but I actually allowed my companions to do a majority of the work. Terry especially seemed to delight in it, but I suspected that was because he could eat more than his fill of raw meat. Ugh.
The first creature to stand in my way was a mother polar bear trying to protect her little cubs. She almost bit my damn arm off, but I shifted out of the way quickly enough and my axe brought her down in a single strike. Poor cubs, they're all alone now.
I progressed further when a wolf darted around the corner and charged at me. Almost reflexively I jumped to the side and struck out at it with my axe. I was no longer accustomed to such aggressive wildlife and after all of my recent practice it seemed like I fought a bit overzealously. My axe cleaved clear through the poor wolf, its two halves landing on the ground in a rather sizable pool of blood that expanded across the surface of the snow before freezing solid.
There were even wild yeti guarding the mountain pass ferociously, although they didn't hold a candle to the Stillwater Giant. They were grey and ugly, not to mention slow and loud. They made the most awful noises when I cut into them, and I hoped I wouldn't have to fight many. Less because I felt sorry for them and more because of how bloody loud their annoying screeches were.
I could tell that I was beginning to near the forest when the beasts started taking a more peculiar and mystical tone. The yeti were the first such creatures, although mountain monkeys were only a little bit out of the ordinary. Wintry dragons were something else entirely. They inhaled deeply and tried to breathe the cold and snow at me as some sort of weapon. Their magickal attacks were considerably harder to dodge than the mundane means by which most beasts fought, but I'd crafted my shield for that very purpose. The complex network of electrodes I'd wired to the shield crackled as the icy breath encountered them. The cloud of fog and snow began to dissipate shortly thereafter, fizzling out into nothingness as it yielded to my greater scientific knowledge. The beasts were dead shortly after.
At last, on the very far edge of the pass when the snow began to thaw and trees became more common I started to encounter beasts very similar to the ones I'd fought in the Lair of Bellerogrim well over a year prior. They were thickly scaled and foul tempered, but I'd defeated their likes before with only a dagger and now they stood little chance against the fiery axe that I swung around expertly.
At long last, I had reached the Glimmering Forest. It seemed like far too long ago that I had first talked of it with Loghaire Thunder Stone, and indeed my unplanned trip to Tarant had taken me over a month out of my way. It seemed like this adventuring business took up quite a great deal of time. I do wonder what Frederick will be like when I finally return... what he's been up to in the past two years...
The elves were friendly when we reached Qintarra, which honestly somewhat surprised me. I didn't figure they secluded themselves on the far side of nowhere because it got them plenty of visitors, but instead rather the opposite. We exchanged greetings with the guards at the entrance briefly and then I made as if to go inside when one guard stopped me.
Well... I guess that explains that. Pleasantries, THEN threats... that's the order of things. "Good day..." I wasn't sure if he was upset simply because I was a human or if he was eyeing up the technology I carried with me. It didn't much matter, however. I certainly wasn't going to do anything to prolong my stay in the trees. I wasn't overly fond of heights, and the magick that hung thickly in the air was so potent that it was almost painful.
I climbed the staircase that had been magickally woven into the side of the tall tree and at its top I exited onto the wooden platforms that made up Qintarra. The view from the top was spectacular, but the uncomfortable feeling that struck me in the pit of my stomach quite diminished the beauty of it all. I wandered out to the edge of a platform to get a better view and I encountered an elf there, looking out into the trees. "Hello, sir. Might I ask your name?"
I reached out to shake his hand, but he merely looked back out at the trees again, distracted. "The... uh, pleasure is mine. You said you were master of the hunt? What does that entail? I'm not overly familiar with elven society, but I'd be interested in learning."
That did make a bit of sense, now that he mentioned it. They certainly weren't going to domesticate animals for their meat and I couldn't foresee them making farms anytime soon. They probably used magick to force the growth of fruits and vegetables, but the same couldn't easily be done for meat. "I see. So there are a lot of hunters here in Qintarra?"
I nodded, "Certainly..." I would've pulled out a pocket watch, but under the circumstances that seemed embarrassing. I gazed up at the sky and judged by the position of the sun instead. "I'd say it's just after midday, sir."
Dark Fens... I'm not overly familiar with those. This could be interesting. "That's worrisome, indeed. Could I be of help?" I was honestly interested in helping, but my primary motivation was, as usual, curiosity. I relished the opportunity to explore anywhere I hadn't read about in my books and the Dark Fens were supposedly the home of the altar to Makaal.
"Done." I didn't care as much about the reward as just doing something good for once, but the reward could certainly be sold off for a tidy profit. Elven chain was good quality and would fetch a nice price at one of the arcane armories in Tarant.
"Goodbye. I'll return when I have news." It didn't seem particularly prudent to leave so soon after entering the city. Instead I wandered around to the northwest, holding my hand up to keep the sun out of my eyes. It was a shame I felt so uncomfortable in Qintarra considering how stunningly beautiful it all was. I continued wandering from platform to platform, catching snippets of conversations between various elves, when my eyes settled upon somebody whom I expected to be at least as uncomfortable as me: a dwarf. "Well, well, now isn't that a surprise. Who might you be?"
He glared at me impatiently and muttered, "If you must know, my name is Jormund."
Not the talkative type, I see. "What's a dwarf doing up here?"
Your HOME?! Are you completely bonkers? You've got to be itching like crazy! I can barely stand it! "I'm looking to find the elves responsible for banishing the Black Mountain Clan. Might you know anything about it?"
Now that's bloody strange. "Who is Raven?" I felt it important to get what information I could before laughing at or insulting the dwarf I intended to get it from.
Although it was subtle, there was something about the matter-of-fact tone in the dwarf's voice that stuck out to me. If Raven, the Silver Lady's daughter, was the one who effectively ran the city, then it seemed unlikely for emissaries to be sent out in the Silver Lady's name. Unless she were terribly unwell since... the incident. That seemed unlikely, however. All right. That's what I needed to know. NOW it's time to laugh at you. "You said you were a mage? That is a bit... unusual, is it not?"
Hmm... curious, indeed. I suppose it's no different than being born a peace-loving orc, or what about that Ogdin fellow back on the Isle of Despair? I do hope he enjoyed that book I gave him. "So that's why you live here?"
The tone in his voice was harsh and terse, and I could tell something was upsetting him as we spoke about it. "You sound as if you want to leave now."
I felt honestly sorry for him. I could only imagine how the elves were treating him. I'd never forget the look on Loghaire's face when he described to me just how fundamentally different elves and dwarves were and how little they associated with each other since the wars of times past. "Do you dislike elves that much?"
Yes, I gathered as much from Loghaire. "How long is your contract for?" The dwarf in front of me seemed quite impatient for a dwarf. Dwarves were not at all prone to impatience.
Why in the gods-? "Why did you agree to such an interminable length of service?" I knew that dwarves were vastly different from humans, but I utterly could not comprehend willingly signing oneself over for three or more human lifetimes of servitude, and that wasn't accounting for how long the dwarf had already served.
Surly? Haughty, perhaps, but it's unusual for an elf to be outright surly... "Why don't you just leave?"
I'd been practicing my persuasive arts for some time, and I saw quite the opportunity in front of me to put them to good use. Besides, if I failed at least I wouldn't be the one that had to suffer for it. "Perhaps I could convince him to release you?"
That's probably true. Looks like the dwarf saw through me. "If you're certain, I suppose I'll be on my way, then." I turned and walked straight away. On my way to your mentor, that is. I couldn't resist the challenge.
Unfortunately for me, all I discovered in the hut was a dead body. I nearly gasped, but I was becoming quite accustomed to the sight. As long as his ghost didn't raise out of his body and start yelling at me I would be fine. I was curious, however, at the scene in front of me. There were no signs of violence on the elf's body or in the room around him. I inspected further.
On the ground next to his body I found an empty glass with a strange odor inside of it. Holding the glass made me slightly more uncomfortable than I already was so I knew it couldn't be technological in nature, but still it perplexed me. Jormund, you didn't... this isn't why you asked me not to interfere, is it? Tell me it's not so...
Bonus ContentRequested by Spike McMayhem
Here's the second last update to the Virgoo saga. Tomorrow I'll post the remainder, and toss up a .rar of sounds on putfile or rapidshare or something. Please give me host recommendations so the file transfer sucks as little as it possibly can. If I had a better way to host, I definitely would, but at least it's better than not sharing at all.