General Darkath awoke bound to a cold slab of stone, looking up as snow gently fell upon his face. Torches burned on poles all about giving off a feeble light as the sun was almost done lighting the steely gray clouds for the day. He moved his sore head around and could see four figures in black, two on each side of the stone table he was tied to. The General was filled with a deep dread as he gazed upon them. He could see their evil foulness as they spoke some strange incantation. When he looked away he saw the High Mage and a handful of Elves in the distance. All were tied hand and foot and on their knees in the snow.
“General Darkath,” a voice sounded behind him, out of sight. “Giveth thy life force unto me!” The voice could barely be heard, it was the low gravelly noise boulders make when they rub on one another.
The General looked up to a stone knife crawling with evil runes. He realized the tall black sorcerer stood at his head holding it. He also realized he was stripped of his armor and his chest was bare. The General closed his eyes and said, “Never!” as the knife came down. He went into the White Magic within and gave himself to it.
The Dark Lord held the knife high feeling the darkness within him crying out to feed. The Dread Lords standing at the sides of the table chanted, greedy for the blinding life spirit within this body. He brought the knife down in anticipation of a jolt of power so strong as to knock him away. With both hands he plunged the knife deep into the chest of the Elven General.
Nothing, there was nothing from the killing, nothing from the sacrifice. Instead of being struck back with the lightning strike of the life force they fell back with an empty nothingness. The Druids Bane each put their hands over the holes in the sides of their heads in an effort to shut out the screaming darkness within.
“Bring forth another Elf to put upon thy table!” the Dark Lord screamed. He felt the darkness most of all. It was a clawing malevolence within his head threatening to burst out.
Three more Elves went under the knife and three more gave the spirit of their life force to the Good Magick within before it could be taken. The Dark Lord noticed white tendrils of smoke rise into the aether with each knife strike to mix with the mist in the sky. He came to realize the life spirit of the Elves was denied him.
They were running out of time and the Dark Lord knew they needed strength to cross the boundary into the lands of the Fell Ice. They also needed to satisfy the darkness within. “Bring slaves! Kill thy rest of thine Elves!” he screamed once more at his followers. In seconds the few living black sorcerers of his Dark Stars pulled out swords and brought them down on the necks of the remaining Elves.
Several slaves were brought to the table to sate the appetite of the darkness and renew their strength. Even the black sorcerers were allowed to feed from the altar table. They walked up to change places with the Dread Lords and stand at the points of the pentagram carved into the stone on which the bodies lay.
Quickly it was done for the Dark Lord could see the large pack of wolves as they approached the depression where the battle had taken place. He could not see the wolves themselves as they were too far away, but through the gloom of the ending day he could see the golden light burning within each one. He watched as they swarmed over the battlefield and knew it would not be long before they came this way.
Also not too far behind the wolves came the white light almost too bright to look upon. It was the strongest force of the Good Magick he had ever seen and he shuddered every time he looked at it. He knew it to be an Elf and assumed it was a powerful Mage traveling with two others much weaker and a handful of the big wolves. It never occurred to him that although the Elf was strong in the Good Magick it might be young and inexperienced in its use. The small band was still a ways out on the plain but moving fast to catch up with the large pack. The Dark Lord knew even if he sacrificed every slave here he would not be strong enough to face such power. He knew he must take his meager force and leave, he would fight another day.
The Dark Lord looked once more to the gateway into the fell lands. He could see the pillars of Good Magick as they stood against the ancient swirling magick of the Fell Ice. He did not know if they could pass into these lands, but he knew they must try. He hoped the Black Magick within them would meld with the ancient magick beyond. He was almost certain a creature of Good Magick could not pass through the gateway. They would be crushed and consumed by the forces of the ancient evil.
Katyr, Halamar and Orist along with Shadowback and his pack met the large group of Saddlebacks they were following just before the site of the battlefield. Feelings of joy and relief could be felt from Shadowback as he joined up with his two daughters on the plain. Introductions with the rest of the Saddlebacks were put off for now as the Elves dismounted and started to walk sadly around the depression looking for survivors in the bloody snow. Rock Ravens could be heard screaming as they flew away with wolves chasing them. The scavenging birds were not happy at having their feast interrupted. Wolves not chasing the birds began lining up around the edge of the bowl. They softly started to howl to the darkening sky for their lost kin. The three young Elves grieved with them as they walked amongst the dead. Many of the Elves they had known and some had even been friends.
The three Elves could see the valiant Valen Guard and the soldiers of the Northern Boulders-edge Outpost made a mighty accounting of themselves with their golden steeds and the powerful Tundras Wolves of the Osprey Clan. The little blood soaked bowl was filled with many more times dead barbarian bodies and black wolf carcasses than those of the Elves and the Saddlebacks. Horrific wounds confronted them when they looked upon the dead barbarians. They could not understand why such terrible mutilation happened here. Also amongst the dead were women and children, all dying the same abhorrent way as the men. These bodies bore the same wounds as those littering the trail out on the plain, except for those torn limb from limb by the savage jaws of the Saddlebacks they followed here. Most were missing their heads as well as an arm or a leg, or both. The three Elves wondered what dark magic must have drove these people and why it was that so many were beheaded.
After walking throughout the bottom of the bowl where most of the dead lay the three young Elves moved to walk the snowy edge at the top. They were almost all the way around when Katyr noticed a faint spark of the White Magic deep within the snow. He could see it under the dead body of a mighty golden stallion. The three pulled the horse away and underneath they found the small body of the Battle Mage Glynfiel. Halamar and Orist laid blankets out while Katyr gently picked her up and placed her upon them.
Katyr sat beside the Mage and held her hands while looking deep into himself at the White Magic within. His two friends were amazed as they watched the feeble spark of White Magic within the small Mage build to a flame. In minutes the little Battle Mage was sitting up shaking her head and looking about. She looked down on the depression in the snow and sadly began to weep. It was too dark to see the carnage amongst the shadows below but she knew her friends lay there.
“I could hear the battle as I tried to dig myself free,” she said as tears streamed down her face. “I was unable to escape as the cold seeped in and took my strength. But I could hear their muffled screams and I could feel them fall. I was trapped and there was nothing I could do to help.”
Katyr stayed with the Mage consoling her as best he could. Halamar and Orist walked away to make camp on the cold plain. The Tundras not guarding the dead crowded around their little camp adding their warmth to the fire the Elves started. They parted as Katyr led the shaky little Elf to a small tent set up away from the edge. The camp was put up far enough away so the dead could rest in peace. The snow finally stopped falling and the clouds moved south leaving crystal clear air and sharp pin points of light shining down on them from the night’s sky.
Early the next morning the four Elves mounted up after a quick cold breakfast. Glynfiel took a seat behind Katyr and they set off with over fifty big Saddlebacks around them. They rode north following a trail leading from the western edge of the depression. They knew there was no hurry as they could see no bright sparks in the land beyond, nor could they see any sign of the black patches of evil.
The Tundras ran on ahead following their noses and staying to the faint outlines of sleigh and foot tracks in the snow. It was not long until two towering pillars of the White Magic could be seen far off in the distance. When Halamar and Orist looked they could only see two columns of swirling mist, dully lighted as they stretched up into the sky. When Glynfiel and Katyr gazed upon them they saw two spinning vortexes of white light going up so high they could not see their ending. To the two Elves they were shining beacons almost too bright to look upon. The two columns were a gateway into the North and marked the barrier of the White Magic that kept the Fell Ice contained within the cold lands at the top of the world.
When Halamar and Orist looked to the lands beyond the barrier they saw a landscape of broken ice and snow overcast by dark stormy clouds. When Katyr and Glynfiel looked they saw a continual battle as the powers of the Fell Ice constantly tested the White Magic that held it. The two Elves could see an onslaught of angry black clouds floating in from the North and sucked into the spinning columns. The dark patches mingled with the white light getting fainter and fainter as they spun around until they dissipated into nothing. It was eerie to see such a struggle in complete silence. The two Elves were in awe as they watched the eternal battle. Neither had ever journeyed this far north to see the barrier of the White Magic holding against its ancient enemy.
At the base of the pillars they found the bodies of the Elves killed there. Glynfiel flew off of the horse and raced to the body of her fallen mentor, the High Mage Belador. She wept as she held the old Elf’s head in her lap and looked around at General Darkath and the other fallen Elves. She had ridden with them longest and knew each and every one well. The three young Elves stood to the side looking towards the gateway and the north giving the little Battle Mage time alone in her sorrow. After a short while the Tundras gave soft howls as Glynfiel rose and came to stand beside them. There was a fire in her eyes where moments ago had been tears.
“I can see the darkness out in the swirl,” she said after looking for a minute. Halamar and Orist looked at each other questioningly as they could see nothing.
“Yes, I can see it too,” said Katyr. “It travels east to the backside of the Grimfangs, I can see its wretched trail of evil through the swirl.” Shadowback came up next to them and barked and then growled as if in agreement. Several other Tundras who were also strong in the Wild Wolf Magic growled with him as they too looked North. “How is it possible they could travel the gate?” Katyr asked her after the wolves had spoken.
“The pillars were designed to keep the Fell Ice from escaping, not to keep anything from going in,” she said staring hard at the gate. “It is possible, obviously, for those with the Black Magic to enter. As long as the Fell Ice does not kill them. For those with the White Magic it is unknown. It is said the pillars would burn one gifted as such out. If that did not happen the magic of the Fell Ice beyond would surely crush them. But no one knows, as none have ever tried.”
At that moment Glynfiel took off running with a speed that surprised everyone, following the tracks that led through the gateway. Katyr yelled for her to stop and went running after as fast as he could. He was fast but not near as fast as Shadowback who flew by him hard on the heels of the little Battle Mage. In seconds the big wolf, who weighed twice as much as the little Elf, caught up to her and knocked her down. He held Glynfiel pinned in the snow as she struggled to get away.
“Get your wolf off of me Katyr!” she screamed at him as he came running up. “I’ve got to try, I’ve got to go after this evil!”
“You cannot go through the gate, Glynfiel!” he yelled back to her. “It could kill you. You said so yourself. We must find another way!”
Katyr ran up and got down on his knees taking Glynfiel in his arms as Shadowback let her up. She slumped and sobbed once more, this time in his arms. Halamar and Orist who also ran up turned away to go back to the horses. She was weakly beating on their friends chest while asking to be let go before falling into his arms to cry. They could see that Glynfiel was getting the comfort she needed as she softly wept.
A little later in the morning the Elves, with the help of their horses and the Tundras, laid out the bodies of the fallen Elves next to the base of one of the pillars. They laid them out in a row with their hands on their chests. The Elves had died without their weapons so Glynfiel laid her staff alongside the High Mage and her sword in the hands of the General. The bodies would remain there preserved in the frozen land until word could get back to the Elves of the Western Vale to come and claim them.
Once they were done Katyr, with the help of the Saddlebacks, inspected the sight where the killings took place. Laying in the snow where they found the Elves were also five barbarian bodies. He checked each one and wondered what kind of ritualistic horror happened here. Each Elf died with a look on his face as if he’d fallen asleep, the face of each barbarian was a frozen mask of terror. From each of the men’s body the heart was removed, torn from the chest through a grisly gaping hole. Even with the mighty noses of the Tundras the hearts were nowhere to be found in the snow. He puzzled on their deaths and the evil feelings he got when he touched them. The wolves shied away from the bodies, sending out images of darkness when they did go near them. He and the wolves were happy to leave when the others suggested time to go. Everyone agreed they needed to get away from this place. Only one small pack of the Saddlebacks remained to guard over the bodies of the fallen Elves.
When they returned to the battlefield they decided to stay one more night on the plain by the bowl of the fallen. Before the sun set Glynfiel went down and walked slowly through the bottom of the depression, alone. She stopped often looking down at Elves she had known and said a little prayer for each one. She replaced her sword with a short sword she found in the snow. As the sun was setting she returned to the little camp carrying the staffs of the High Mage and the other Battle Mage. She gave the staff of the High Mage Belador to Katyr.
“Why Glynfiel? The High Mage was your friend, you should have his staff,” he said looking at the ancient piece of wood in wonder. The polished oak gleamed in the firelight. The spells carved in ancient Elven script along the staff shown like gold. The clear crystal which was set into the end of the staff many millennia ago still held firm. It shown bright as thin misty wisps of barely visible White Magic wove in and out of it. Katyr could feel the power of the staff and he could feel the presence of the elder Mage in it.
“No Katyr, I knew Belador and I know he would want you to have it,” she said. “I can see you have the power of a High Mage in you, even if you do not know how to use it. You are strong in the White Magic, Katyr, and this staff will help you to bring it out. I am a Battle Mage and this is the staff I should carry.”
As evening fell and they took their ease around the fire they made plans for the next day. The four decided they would travel to the camp handlers who were still out on the plain. From there someone would need to ride back to the Western Vale to report the battle and the deaths of the General and the High Mage.
As the Elves were making their plans the Duke and Duchess over all the Saddlebacks here, Silentpaw and Dawnstalker, listened intently to the conversation. They had led the fifty wolves, along with Shadowback’s two daughters, to the battlefield. Of the four packs they were over, three were of the Osprey Clan, and the fourth was of the same clan as Shadowback and his pack, the Raptorcliff Clan. Silentpaw sent images to the Elves that the Raptorcliff pack would accompany them back to the camp handlers. He also relieved Shadowback and his pack to travel with the Elves. The other three packs of the Ospreys would stay with the dead to protect them from scavengers. All of the fallen wolves in the depression were of the Ospreys, and the Elves could feel the sadness of their passing in the images coming from the Duke and Duchess. After sending the images the two pack leaders left to join with the wolves standing guard over their dead brothers and sisters. Their voices mingled in with their pack mates as they sent mournful howls into the night sky.
That night Katyr lay down with the staff of Belador next to him. There were no pegs over a door frame to lay it on as Mages are want to do, so the next best thing was at his side. He marveled in wonder at the staff and how it made him feel. The White Magic within him seemed to hum when he held it. The staff was like a living thing and he looked forward to learning its use.
The four Elves left the battlefield early the next morning and rode towards the camp handlers. They met several on the trail who were coming to check on the soldiers that had left them. The camp handlers were given strict orders by General Darkath not to ride this way until the third day after they left, and one did not question or go against an order from the General. These were Elves weakest in the White Magic and they had only felt a glimmer in its ripples when the General and the soldiers fell. At the time they were unsure what those glimmers meant. Their sadness was great when they received the news as all had been with the soldiers and the General for many a turn.
After the Elves met they returned to the encampment of the rest of the camp handlers. There they met Master Gilriss, the leader of the camp Elves. Master Gilriss made everyone stop and settle down for a noon meal while plans were discussed and made. Much to the objections of Halamar and Orist it was decided they would return with two of the camp Elves back to the Vale. The pack leaders of the Raptorcliffs signaled they would accompany them. The rest of the camp handlers would pack up and go to the battlefield. There they would get the bodies of the soldiers ready for travel when the Elves of the Western Vale came for them.
Under strong objections from Halamar and Orist, Katyr decided he must ride on to the Vale of the Northern Elves. He felt the darkness they pursued was destined to end up in the Grimfangs putting them very close to the Elves living there. He knew he must ride the long distance of the Grimfang Mountain range to warn them. It would be a trip taking many turns of the moon, and a dangerous journey to make this close to winter.
As the debate for Katyr to go heated up with his two friends Master Gilriss stepped in. He used his rank as Camp Master to settle the argument. Although being weak in the White Magic he could still see the strength of it in Katyr. He was from the Northern Vale and had left many turns ago to be closer to the sea, but he still had many family members and friends living there. If there was a chance this young Elf could keep them safe he would see it happen. Under his orders it was decided Katyr would continue on northward.
“Let my people know the danger of this evil. Tell them it must be stamped out,” he told Katyr after all was settled. With sadness he also added, “General Darkath was a good commander and his death must not go unanswered.”
Glynfiel decided that she too would travel with Katyr to the Northern Vale. She had journeyed there several times before with the High Mage Belador and could be of great help. Besides, the little Battle Mage wanted revenge against the evil that had killed her friends. She would take any chance necessary to make it happen. She asked Master Gilriss for a spare horse so they would not have to ride double out on the plain.
Shadowback also stepped up at this time sending images of the vast snowy plain running up to a rocky snow covered range of mountains. The big wolf had formed a bond with Katyr and it was clear he would accompany his friend on this journey. His two daughters were back with him and his small pack was complete once again. Katyr was happy Shadowback would be traveling with them. No matter how small the pack Tundra Wolves were always good companions to have. It appeased Halamar and Orist somewhat that the Battle Mage and the Saddlebacks would be going with their friend, but they were still not happy.
It was a sad departing when Katyr and Glynfiel left for the North. Halamar and Orist looked on as the two rode away, wondering when they would see their friend again. Each rode upon their own golden steed and pulling a pack horse loaded high with supplies. Master Gilriss had been more than generous. There was not much to be had when traveling the barren lands of the North in the cold months before winter. Shadowback and his small pack ran on ahead scouting the trail before them.
The Dark Lord led his followers slowly through the lands of the Fell Ice. The magic here was oppressive, but with every step he felt it becoming easier to navigate. As he grew stronger so did his Dread Lords and black sorcerers. After several days under the dreadful oppressiveness they were even able to bolster the slaves following them with spells of Black Magick. He walked along slowly followed by three black wolves, the only ones to survive the battle.
The voice inside his head was gleeful and became more so the farther east they walked. After a week they reached a huge maw in the side of the mountains. He knew he found where his kingdom would be started. They entered the huge cavern and became stronger because the grip of the Fell Ice was weak here, a welcome relief. He looked around and realized the huge labyrinth may have passages into the lands south of the Grimfangs, even more relief.
They entered the cavern with less than five hundred slaves, hardly enough to build his hall. So plans were made to venture into the south lands of the barbarians and capture more. The Dread Lords each took command of four of the black sorcerers. Three of them left to begin the hunt for more slaves. But not before the Dark Lord made them carve three slabs of granite from the caverns to make three more altar tables. They carved the runes exactly as the first one while the Dark Lord held the ancient sheepskin scrolls and read spells of the Black Magic. The stones glowed as he infused them with the power of sacrifice and the draining of the life force. Each stone was tested as slaves were sacrificed on them and found to work as well as the first. With these stones the Dread Lords and black sorcerers could feed to gain strength to travel the lands of the Fell Ice. With these stones and more the Dark Lord could build a mighty empire as he made more black sorcerers and acquired more slaves.
Only one thing bothered him as he wandered the cavernous halls of his knew stronghold. The voice in his head was finally gone but the darkness inside him still stirred. He could feel an annoying presence to the east through the ice and stone of the mountains. He felt the Good Magick of the Elves living there. He knew someday he would have to do something about it. But not today and not tomorrow, it would be many turns before his attention went that way. He was almost glad of the constant annoyance, it made sure he would not forget.