The snow began to come down heavy in swirling gusts as the Dark Lord followed his small rag-tag group of slaves. His three Dread Lords were up ahead and his Black Sorcerers were spaced throughout making sure the column of slaves kept moving along the trail. They walked to meet his fourth Dread Lord who was waiting with the Dark Star he commanded. They were about half a day away with a small army of barbarian warriors they enslaved with spells of compulsion from the southern lands. The acolyte was at the western end of the Grimfangs with a force of almost a thousand men. The Dark Lord was pleased, he had not thought it possible that one Dark Star and a Dread Lord could compel so many.
The Dark Lord walked along with his pack of deadly black wolves about him. The number of the beasts around him had grown. From the six he had ensnared originally, twenty now traveled through the snow at his side. Twenty more walked with the Dread Lords up ahead. The wolves were trapped into their service when they tried to feed on slaves sent out to lure them. They were forty killers as deadly as any of their strongest enslaved warriors. The wolves still did not much care for him, nor his Dread Lords, as they snapped and growled every time they came near. Yet the black wolves obeyed, through the power of their minds they were controlled.
He was surprised when all of a sudden the mangy pack of wolves stopped in their tracks and crouched low to the ground. Their snarls, growls and barks were replaced by low, miserable whines. Seconds later ferocious growls could be heard coming from the rocky outcrops near the plain where they walked.
“Dread Cats!” the Dark Lord thought, the commotion was towards the front of the column where he could not see. He sent a mental command out into the aether to his Dread Lords and Dark Stars who walked up there, “What news of the big cat attack, report thine lost!”. It would be an inconvenience to him if any of his Dread Lords or Dark Stars were lost at this time. No matter how strong they were in the Black Magic they could not withstand a Dread Cat attack.
“Only slaves, Master,” came the reply from one of the Black Sorcerers. “Two who stumbled too close to the rock”.
“Keep thine rabble close about, or it will not be just slave the cat dines on tonight,” the Dark Lord warned to all. He could I’ll afford to lose anyone with the threat coming from the south.
The Dread Cats were dangerous foes up here in the high north. Not only did they hide in the rock with their camouflage coats of muted grays, black and white, they possessed a magic which made them impossible to sense with the Black. He tried once again, as he had many times before, to cast a spell to net one of the big cats, much like he did with the black wolves, but to no avail. Their minds were too closed off, too strong and too infused with an ancient magick of another age. They could not be ensnared by any conjure he could contrive. The Dread Cats were not for him. Too bad, he thought, as they were awesome killing machines.
The Dark Lord mused on how he could learn much from their ambush ways. Dread Cats were masters of concealing themselves and coming from nowhere to trap and kill their prey. The attack on the slaves gave him an idea on how to deal with the threat riding towards them. He knew exactly where to set up an ambush in which to ensnare those coming. He would trap them, and perhaps kill them, just as a Dread Cat would.
He was still troubled as he looked to the south through the heavy snow coming down. He could see the pin points of golden light still making their way north. He knew it would not be long until they were upon him and his slaves. He could now make out a force of just over two hundred beings filled with the Good Magick riding upon the plain. He learned from the Lapps that these beings were called Elves. That was about all the information he could get from the nomads as they were fearful of them. They kept their distance from the Elves and also the big wolves who roamed the snowy plain.
The Dark Lord worried, wanting more information about these Elves. At this distance he should be able to decipher their thoughts, and that he was unable to do. The Magick with-in them was unlike any he had encountered before, but he could feel its threat. They were also surrounded by dozens of the large wolves, who were also filled with the golden light. It was a small force, to be sure, and did not give him cause for too much concern. The Dark Lord knew he would meet up with his waiting Dread Lord and the small army of warrior slaves long before those to the south arrived. He and his force would be ready for them.
There was something else out upon the plain that gave the Dark Lord rise for concern. The mystery of it made he and his Dread Lords feel a bit uneasy. Farther south, beyond the two hundred who traveled closest towards them, burned a shining dot of white light of Good Magick that was almost unbearable to look upon. It was a single point, almost as bright as the sun, that was also on the move northward towards them. The Dark Lord shivered, despite the burning warmth his body put off against the cold. The threat of this Good Magick was undeniable and he feared they were not yet strong enough to face such a concentrated force.
After all the failed attempts to find a safe haven on the southern side of the Grimfangs the Dark Lord began to suspect there was only one path to take. Only one trail that would lead him to a place where he could become strong enough to face such concentrations of the Good Magick. Once they defeated the small band of wolves and riders they must travel to the frozen lands of ice and snow north of the Grimfang Mountains. They must enter into the lands of an ancient malevolent force known as the Kingdom of the Fell Ice.
General Darkath looked northward as he stood next to the High Mage Belador. Two large Saddleback Tundras sat quietly panting next to them also looking to the north. Behind them their troop of Elves unloaded the pack horses for the night’s camp. After several days of hard riding on the Tundra their destination was almost within reach. Tomorrow they would know what these dark blotches of evil taint were at the base of the Grimfangs.
“By the time we arrive at the base of the mountains the two patches of blackness will have met I think,” the General said. “I still wonder why the one traveled so far into the Grimfangs only to return. And why the other has stopped as if somehow knowing where to wait. They are no doubt communicating with one another in some way.”
One of the big Tundras growled as if in agreement.
“No doubt, General,” the High Mage said. “But I do not see how, given their distance apart. They must be strong in whatever dark magic they employ. I wish we knew more about what we will soon be up against. The only thing becoming clear is the danger it emits, but just how dangerous remains to be seen.”
A thought came upon the two Elves from the largest Tundra next to them. It was an image in their minds of blackness and death, slaughtered Tundra Wolves and Elven warriors laying in blood soaked snow under a black sky. It was the same thought the wolf kept sending them since he and his pack joined up with them on the Tundra two days ago. No matter how many times the wolf sent the image it always disturbed them. What disturbed them even more was the image grew in deadly intensity every time. The two Elves were shaken by the vision as always, but it did not deter them from continuing the quest. Their was no choice for them except to carry on and investigate the darkness on the horizon, it was their duty.
Four packs of Saddleback Tundra Wolves joined them as they made their way north upon the plain. Forty-eight wolves in all followed in the path the golden stallions made as they traveled through the deep snow. The Elves were very happy to see them and the Wild Wolf Magic residing within each wolf lifted their spirits. The General was pleased to see them because it increased his fighting force. He knew the wolves would not abandon them if it came to a battle. The two wolves looking northward with the two Elves were the pack leaders of the largest pack and the overall leaders of all of the packs that followed. The Duke of the pack was named Howler and the Duchess was named Savagemane. They were wolves of the Osprey Clan and neighbors to the Elves of the Western Vale.
General Darkath turned and looked at the two wolves at his side, “Time to get some rest old friends, it has been a long days run through the snow for you. We shall be on the trail early in the morning and hopefully put this all to rest on the morrow. Go and eat now, come Belador, let us do the same. There is nothing more we can glean from here tonight.” The four turned and walked back to the campsite set up behind them.
Small travel tents were assembled on the plain in an orderly fashion with cook fires burning amongst them. Camp handlers worked around the fires cooking the evening meal. Soldiers waited patiently in lines on one side of the camp wearing heavy cloaks and trying to stay warm while waiting for their food. The smell of meat sizzling over the fires caused the wolves to emit low rumbles as it drifted towards them. At the far end of the rows of tents a few soldiers who already ate sat by a fire and tuned up their lutes. They were getting ready to add some music and song to the evening.
On the other side of the camp Elves were laying out slabs of meat and large aurochs bones on a long, low snow drift. Wolves lined up eagerly eyeing the food and were waiting for the meal just as the soldiers waited for theirs. The meat and bones had been brought by the Elves in anticipation of the Tundras traveling with them. They did not bring the food to entice the wolves into following them, they brought the food because it was a nice thing to do for their friends.
The General walked up to one of the cook fires and took a seat next to several of his soldiers. He watched and listened as Elves told stories and good natured banters with each other. He looked to the Tundras spread about the camp wolfing down chunks of meat and cracking bones. Tomorrow they would ride out and meet the darkness walking upon the far plain. He grew uneasy as he sat and thought about it while lutes started strumming softly behind him. He hoped and prayed nothing happened to these fine Elves and wolves he rode with. He could not help but think he and the High Mage might be misjudging the threat they would soon meet. As he listened to the music he did not think he would be getting much sleep tonight.
The next morning the small camp was packed up and tied onto the pack horses in record time. All of the soldiers pitched in to help the handlers in an effort to keep warm in the freezing chill of the morning air. Snow had been falling all night and was still falling adding to the chill. The pack horses and the Elves guiding them would be staying behind as the soldiers and Tundra Wolves rode on to determine what dark magic lay ahead.
Once everyone had consumed the morning meal they prepared for their ride northward. Fifty of the Valen Guard plus one hundred and fifty soldiers from the Northern Boulders-edge Outpost stood around blazing fires trying to warm up their armor. The freeze and the snow made the straps stiff and difficult too work with as they put it on over their thick riding leathers and furs. Each soldier helped the one next to him with the tightening of straps and securing of buckles making sure the armor was on properly.
The General’s tent was tall enough for him to stand allowing him to don his armor inside. Fires burnt in braziers throughout the tent keeping the chill away while his guards helped him to put it on. When he stepped out of the tent he found the High Mage deep in conversation with his two Battle Mages. They stood next to one of the large fires in their heavy gossamar robes. The General could overhear the small female Battle Mage arguing for returning to the Vale for more soldiers. With her powers in the White Magic she was much more in harmony with the thoughts and feelings of the Tundra Wolves. They imparted to her that the blackness out on the plain was much more dangerous than any of them thought. They felt a sense of deadly dread emitting from the dark evil and worried for the Elves and their packmates.
“I tell you my lord Belador, the Saddlebacks sense something very dangerous out upon the plain. If you will not return for more soldiers at least await the arrival of the four packs that run toward us even now,” the Warrior Mage named Glynfiel said to the High Mage.
Glynfiel was very different from most of the other Mages of the Vale. Instead of being draped in heavy robes like her brethren she wore light, finely made armor covered by a gossamar cloak. She carried a staff like the rest of the Mages, but unlike them she also wore a short sword on her hip and knew how to use it. General Darkath liked this fiery little Mage very much.
“We will ride out Glynfiel,” the General said as he walked up. “I appreciate your concern and the concern of Duke Howler but I think the Elven and Saddleback warriors we have can deal with what we see upon the plain. Please let the Duke and Duchess know we will be careful in our approach to these mysterious travelers. Now, let us go mount up and get this over with. I would return to the warmth of our Vale as soon as possible.” The General walked away from the Mages towards the horse lines followed by his four guards. All of the soldiers started following once they saw their General head out.
The golden horses had all been standing close to one another for warmth through the night. They started whinnying and running excitedly through the snow once they caught a glimpse of the Elves coming their way. Shaking their long blonde manes and tails they pranced in circles as they looked for their riders. The horses were extremely loyal to the Elves and well mannered as blankets and then saddles were put on them. In no time at all the two hundred plus horses and soldiers were ready to ride out on the plain. The sun was barely rising behind snow filled clouds when the Elves rode away from the camp followed by well rested and well fed Tundras.
The sun was half way across the sky behind dark gray clouds when the column of Elves, followed by the Tundra Wolves, rode up to the rocky outcroppings of the Grimfang Mountains. At the direction of the High Mage they turned west towards the dark patches of Black Magic at the end of the mountain range. Wolves ran up through the horse lines to be in front of the Elves knowing those they sought were not too far away.
“We grow close, General,” the High Mage Belador said. “Not much chance of an ambush with the Tundras close about. But the soldiers should be made ready just the same, in case they need to move fast.”
“The wolves warn to be very cautious,” Glynfiel said as she rode by their side. She uneasily slid her short sword in and out of its scabbard. “They are getting mixed smells of something foul ahead. They are bothered as they cannot tell how many there are in front of us. Nor can they tell if they lay in wait.”
“Well, we should know soon enough,” the General replied. “Captain!” he yelled to a nearby Elf. “Pass it down the line to be ready, weapons drawn. We follow the Tundras and an enemy may be close.”
After another half hour of riding the wolves and soldiers came up to a large depression in the ground. The wolves stopped and lined up all along its edge looking down into a big snow covered bowl. The Elves spread out and came riding up behind them, staying on their horses as they too looked down. All along the rim the big Saddlebacks stared at the bottom with their ears pricked forward in curiosity. Steam escaped their noses and mouths as they let out low rumbly growls because of what they could see below.
At the bottom of the bowl stood twenty figures in tattered black robes surrounded by at least fifty barbarian warriors. On the far edge of the depression across from the Elves stood five more figures in black. These were surrounded by an unknown number of the foul black wolves of the north. The General could not tell if the Tundras growled at the men below or the wolves beyond. He guessed that it was probably both.
Katyr looked northwards through the heavy snow coming down. It was their second night out on the Tundra and the young Elf was becoming more and more frustrated with their progress. No matter how hard they pushed their horses they were still a days ride from catching up to General Darkath and the High Mage Belador. With each step it was becoming more clear to Katyr they would not reach them in time to give warning of the danger they rode into.
The day before the three young Elves were joined by four Saddleback Tundra Wolves running quickly across the plain. It was the smallest pack any of the three had ever encountered. There was only a single pack leader named Shadowback and the White Magic burned bright in the big wolf. Katyr had never met a Tundra so gifted in the Wild Wolf Magic. He and Shadowback became fast friends upon their first meeting. The Elves and wolves joined together on their trek across the Tundra.
Shadowback and his pack stayed with the Elves even though they had a very good reason to hurry along the trail. Fifty Saddlebacks of the Osprey Clan were about a days run ahead joined with over two hundred Elves. Fifty more followed about half a day behind running hard to catch up. Shadowback’s two daughters ran with the second group of wolves and he was very worried for them. He could see the danger of the foul black patches everyone chased at the western end of the Grimfangs just as well as Katyr could. Even with the strength and ferociousness of fifty full grown Tundras around them he still worried. The deadliness of the darkness they all ran towards was becoming more pronounced with every step towards the north they took. Shadowback feared for the safety of the last of his blood.
Shadowback stood by the young Elf’s side also looking northward. The big wolf did not wonder at the bond he felt with the Elf, he only knew it was natural. It was this bond that kept him and his small pack with the Elves instead of running off ahead. He felt a love and a trust towards this Elf and he knew it was returned the same way. He feared for his daughters but he also knew he could not abandon his new found friend.
The two stood on the plain as the snow fell heavily around them. Both looked off in the distance towards the mountains trying to gauge the danger of the darkness there. The Elf looked on and feared for those that he followed, the wolf looked on in concern.
The Dark Lord looked across the depression of land and finally gazed upon the ones perusing he and his forces. So, these are the Elves, he thought as he looked upon the beings that walked and looked like men. The Good Magick resided in each of them. Most just carried a spark of it, but a few shined uncomfortably bright. These would no doubt be the most dangerous.
The big wolves that ran with the Elves through the lines of horses also carried a magick within. He could see it was a different magick, more raw and more attuned with nature, but a Good Magick just the same.
The Dark Lord wished he could have gleaned more information about the Elves and wolves from the nomads he had questioned. He could feel the force confronting them was extremely dangerous. No spell of compulsion could be used on them as their minds were blocked. He and his followers had never encountered such a threat before. But the Dark Lord also hungered, as did his Dread Lords and Black Sorcerers, as they looked upon the Elves and wolves. They could see the strength of the Life Force within them each so greedily craved. Their desire to get them on the altar table and feed grew as the Elves and wolves drew closer.
The Dark Lord could see all was ready as their enemies approached. He could also see the Elves and wolves did not know the danger they walked into. Just as the minds of the Elves were blocked to him, so was his and his followers to them. They could not sense the trap he had laid all about them. He watched as they aligned themselves around the rim of the depression, only focused on what was before them. The Dark Lord did something he had not done in a long time, he smiled.