Reign of Winter: Monkey Monk and the Funky Bunch

A Chance Meeting
Seeds of a cold vengeance

Eventually, I realized the Envoy may once have known my father; but I can never know that with certainty, as I never learned her name. She rid herself of me as quickly as could be managed; and I do not believe I can seek her out to ask the question.

I met her some time after departing my mother’s tribe. The Varki had let me know I was no longer welcome among them now that I was grown. I had grown lean in those six months after parting . . . but I still lived. I found myself in the high wilderness just below the Crown, trailing a strayed caribou between ice-white trees that somehow clung to life in that place.

I peered through blowing powder at the deer. Standing in a clearing, it dug at the snow looking for frozen lichen under a pale Winter blanket. I drew my arrow and sighted the dirty-white fur of the animal’s breast. I steadied myself against the silver-barked trunk of a naked birch. . .

A white wisp of movement descended from the ridge at my left; and the last I saw of the deer was a blur of dappled flank as I released my arrow into empty air.

She was nearby me then, speaking in a language I did not understand. It sounded like a glissando of slippery vowels.

— You lost me three weeks of meat, Princess. Speak in Common, or Skald, if you know it.

She was the first person I had met who stood taller than me. (Perhaps her height was exaggerated by her ability to stand on snow crust without falling through.) Her skin was white and immobile, like milk frozen in the likeness of a face.

— You do not know your own tongue? Are you a black elf from the underworld? She spoke in uninflected Common.

— No, my mother is human. A Varki. Her skin is also brown. She gave me her color in her womb.

She nodded, almost imperceptibly, then spoke a single incomprehensible word.

— What?

— Half-breed. She spoke again in Common and did not seem to intend the term as a compliment.

She turned away and drifted over the snow.

I stumbled after her, shouting crude epithets upon her forefathers, until she turned back toward me.

— You lost me several meals, at least, I cried. Not to mention what else I may have made from that deer’s hide and bones. My hood fell back as I struggled.

She turned on me calmly, and stood, unmoving. Her expression did not soften or change, but her eyes ranged over my face, then she clearly came to some internal decision.

— Learn a few words of the First Tongue from me. And I will take you where you can eat . . . and perhaps you can learn other needful things as well. . .

So. We strode through the snow — or at least I did. She continued to glide over the frigid crust without leaving any sign of passage. Along the way she would point at things and name them in her glissant tongue. We walked for a day and into the night; by the time we reached her destination, not every word she taught me slipped immediately from my mind.

Around midnight, we came upon a hole in the snow.

The Envoy dropped into the dark gap, and, half reclined, slid away without sound. Was I supposed to follow? I was tired and beginning to feel the cold of night penetrate my bones, but I decided to bide. Perhaps she was raiding a hidden Elven larder?

In a few moments she reappeared — with a companion even taller than she. Her facial expression was unchanged, yet I sensed she was more frustrated with me than before.

— Why did you not follow me? Are you awaiting permission? She cast her eyes to the side. This is Valerendin.

An almost imperceptible, sideways motion of her head.

— This is his outpost.

The taller Elf nodded toward me — though his expression was impassive, he seemed not as unfriendly as the Envoy.

— You can call me Val. How are you known?

— Eran. Some called me Streakhair.

I flipped back my hood’s cloak. Even in the dark, pale streaks were visible in my ebon hair. Val and the Envoy exchanged a glance that I found significant, but meaningless.

My stomach rumbled audibly.

— Time for us to eat, it seems. Follow me. Val swung into his hole and vanished. The Envoy gestured toward the opening.

— Please follow, Valerendin. I will come later.

I did as she suggested. I grasped the upper edge of the opening and swung into darkness. I found myself sliding along a narrow passage of polished ice for several meters, until I was able to stand in a narrow pit pocked with handholds upon the inner wall. A light burned above my head. I climbed toward it.

I clambered into a large circular room apparently hewn from living rock. Val dipped a ladle into a steaming pot and filled a rough-looking bowl. The bowl contained a lumpy paste that smelled like baking bread. Val gestured toward a small pile of flat spoons.

— Eat. Then we can discuss your schooling.

More must have passed between Val and the Envoy than the few seconds they were together seemed to allow.

— You must have better things to do than hold the hand of a half-breed, I used the derogatory Elven word the Envoy had used when we first met.

Val frowned.

— You learned that word from the Envoy, I assume. She is a traditionalist . . . and will never accept you. Even so, do not let her limitations define you. Her approval means nothing.

— Why am I here if she sees no place for me among Elves?

— There is kindness yet, hidden within all that ice.

I suddenly realized the Envoy had not followed me into Val’s sanctum; and looked behind me toward the opening of the pit in the hewn-rock floor.

Valerendin glanced toward the pit.

— The Envoy has business elsewhere . . . with the Witches. It is best we let her go her way and merely hope for a safe return.

But I have never encountered the Envoy again to this day — and I never learned if her mission to the Witches was a success or a failure. Following events, and the state of the world, however, suggests the latter.

In the days and weeks that followed, Val filled my head with Elven vocabulary and phrases. He also taught me how to fight with blades. One night he produced a narrow sword in a plain sheath. It was clearly one the light blades favored by his people.

— This may serve you better than that crude thing.

He gestured toward the short sword I had carried away from my tribe, but rarely used except in our sword practice. The Varki used the tool for flaying blubber from sea mammals; but I had seldom unsheathed it — preferring to feather my prey with arrows and to skin it with my dagger. I thanked Val for the light, flexible blade. It was clearly a much better fit for the style of swordplay he taught, rather than the butchery tool I had been using.

As I lay my old cutlass aside, a flutter of pinions came to our ears.

An immense owl arose on broad wings from the pit and alighted at the edge of the firelight. The irises of its large eyes closed to points. Val coaxed he bird forward and took a roll of vellum from around its leg. I caught a glimpse of tiny, precise Elven characters. Val read the note silently, glanced for a moment into empty space then tossed the scrap of tanned sheepskin into the fire. It burned pungently, before the steady updraft carried the odor away through the chimney above.

Val said nothing and soon rolled into his bed and turned away from me, possibly he slept.

The following morning, I awoke and the fire was low, the outpost empty. I waited a bit before emerging into the ice and snow. Trackless drifts lay before me, betraying no sign of Valerendin’s departure.

I waited for Val for several days before cleaning up after myself, taking a few supplies and leaving him well-provided should he return. But I did not think he would.

Had both Sentry and Envoy fallen? I feared that was the case. I was grateful for their momentary comfort, no matter how cold it had been. If I could, I hoped one day to thank them — with a colder vengeance.

I trudged through snow, toward the South.

Mierul's Story

Following is the story Mierul told you over breakfast:

SOMEWHERE, I cannot tell you exactly where, but certainly in vast Irrisen, there lived a peasant with his wife and they had twins — a son and daughter. One day the wife died and the husband mourned over her very sincerely for a long time. One year passed, and two years, and even longer. But there is no order in a house without a woman, and a day came when the man thought, “If I marry again possibly it would turn out all right.” And so he did, and had children by his second wife.

The stepmother was envious of the stepson and daughter and began to use them hardly. She scolded them without any reason, sent them away from home as often as she wished, and gave them scarcely enough to eat. Finally she wanted to get rid of them altogether. Do you know what it means to allow a wicked thought to enter one’s heart?

The wicked thought grows all the time like a poisonous plant and slowly kills the good thoughts. A wicked feeling was growing in the stepmother’s heart, and she determined to send the children to the witch, thinking sure enough that they would never return.

“Dear children,” she said to the orphans, “go to my grandmother who lives in the forest in a hut on hen’s feet. You will do everything she wants you to, and she will give you sweet things to eat and you will be happy.”

The orphans started out. But instead of going to the witch, the sister, a bright little girl, took her brother by the hand and ran to their own old, old grandmother and told her all about their going to the forest.

“Oh, my poor darlings!” said the good old grandmother, pitying the children, “my heart aches for you, but it is not in my power to help you. You have to go not to a loving grandmother, but to a wicked witch. Now listen to me, my darlings,” she continued; “I will give you a hint: Be kind and good to everyone; do not speak ill words to any one; do not despise helping the weakest, and always hope that for you, too, there will be the needed help.”

The good old grandmother gave the children some delicious fresh milk to drink and to each a big slice of ham. She also gave them some cookies—there are cookies everywhere—and when the children departed she stood looking after them a long, long time.

The obedient children arrived at the forest and, oh, wonder! there stood a hut, and what a curious one! It stood on tiny hen’s feet, and at the top was a rooster’s head. With their shrill, childish voices they called out loud:

“Izboushka, Izboushka! turn thy back to the forest and thy front to us!”

The hut did as they commanded. The two orphans looked inside and saw the witch resting there, her head near the threshold, one foot in one corner, the other foot in another corner, and her knees quite close to the ridge pole.

“Fou, Fou, Fou!” exclaimed the witch; “I feel the Irriseni spirit.”

The children were afraid, and stood close, very close together, but in spite of their fear they said very politely:

“Ho, grandmother, our stepmother sent us to thee to serve thee.”

“All right; I am not opposed to keeping you, children. If you satisfy all my wishes I shall reward you; if not, I shall eat you up.”

Without any delay the witch ordered the girl to spin the thread, and the boy, her brother, to carry water in a sieve to fill a big tub. The poor orphan girl wept at her spinning-wheel and wiped away her bitter tears. At once all around her appeared small mice squeaking and saying:

“Sweet girl, do not cry. Give us cookies and we will help thee.”

The little girl willingly did so.

“Now,”gratefully squeaked the mice, “go and find the black cat. He is very hungry; give him a slice of ham and he will help thee.”

The girl speedily went in search of the cat and saw her brother in great distress about the tub, so many times he had filled the sieve, yet the tub was still dry. The little birds passed, flying near by, and chirped to the children:

“Kind-hearted little children, give us some crumbs and we will advise you.”

The orphans gave the birds some crumbs and the grateful birds chirped again:

“Some clay and water, children dear!”

Then away they flew through the air.

The children understood the hint, spat in the sieve, plastered it up with clay and rilled the tub in a very short time. Then they both returned to the hut and on the threshold met the black cat. They generously gave him some of the good ham which their good grandmother had given them, petted him and asked:

“Dear Kitty-cat, black and pretty, tell us what to do in order to get away from thy mistress, the witch?”

“Well,” very seriously answered the cat, "I will give you a towel and a comb and then you must run away. When you hear the witch running after you, drop the towel behind your back and a large river will appear in place of the towel.

If you hear her once more, throw down the comb and in place of the comb there will appear a dark wood. This wood will protect you from the wicked witch, my mistress."

Baba Yaga came home just then.

“Is it not wonderful?” she thought; “everything is exactly right.”

“Well,” she said to the children, “today you were brave and smart; let us see to-morrow. Your work will be more difficult and I hope I shall eat you up.”

The poor orphans went to bed, not to a warm bed prepared by loving hands, but on the straw in a cold corner. Nearly scared to death from fear, they lay there, afraid to talk, afraid even to breathe. The next morning the witch ordered all the linen to be woven and a large supply of firewood to be brought from the forest.

The children took the towel and comb and ran away as fast as their feet could possibly carry them. The dogs were after them, but they threw them the cookies that were left; the gates did not open themselves, but the children smoothed them with oil; the birch tree near the path almost scratched their eyes out, but the gentle girl fastened a pretty ribbon to it. So they went farther and farther and ran out of the dark forest into the wide, sunny fields.

The cat sat down by the loom and tore the thread to pieces, doing it with delight. Baba Yaga returned.

“Where are the children?” she shouted, and began to beat the cat. “Why hast thou let them go, thou treacherous cat? Why hast thou not scratched their faces?”

The cat answered: “Well, it was because I have served thee so many years and thou hast never given me a bite, while the dear children gave me some good ham.”

The witch scolded the dogs, the gates, and the birch tree near the path.

“Well,” barked the dogs, “thou certainly art our mistress, but thou hast never done us a favor, and the orphans were kind to us.”

The gates replied:

“We were always ready to obey thee, but thou didst neglect us, and the dear children smoothed us with oil.”

“The children ran away as fast as their feet could possibly carry them.”

The birch tree lisped with its leaves, “Thou hast never put a simple thread over my branches and the little darlings adorned them with a pretty ribbon.”

Baba Yaga understood that there was no help and started to follow the children herself. In her great hurry she forgot to look for the towel and the comb, but jumped astride a broom and was off. The children heard her coming and threw the towel behind them. At once a river, wide and blue, appeared and watered the field. Baba Yaga hopped along the shore until she finally found a shallow place and crossed it.

Again the children heard her hurry after them and so they threw down the comb. This time a forest appeared, a dark and dusky forest in which the roots were interwoven, the branches matted together, and the tree-tops touching each other. The witch tried very hard to pass through, but in vain, and so, very, very angry, she returned home.

The orphans rushed to their father, told him all about their great distress, and thus concluded their pitiful story:

“Ah, father dear, why dost thou love us less than our brothers and sisters?”

The father was touched and became angry. He sent the wicked stepmother away and lived a new life with his good children. From that time he watched over their happiness and never neglected them any more.

How do I know this story is true? Why, one was there who told me about it.

What Better Place To Court Irrisians?

Hestrig stands in the courtyard, her heavy cloak fluttering around her in the constant, swirling wind. Bordegga moans from the kennels; Hestrig ignores her.

Instead, she regards the massive sculpture in front of her: easily twenty feet tall and chiseled from a single block of ice, it depicts a dragon rearing on its hind legs, mouth open to breath icy death at its foes. Hestrig has seen it a thousand times, but today she regards it as if new. Features she’d learned to ignore over the years stand out now in sharp detail. She’s uncertain how long she’s stood there before a light, silky voice intrudes on her reverie.

“That is the fierce dragon Auburphex,” the voice informs her. Hestrig turns her head just slightly to catch the eye of the lithe, blue-skinned sylph. “When this land was still wild, the Jadwiga Yelizaveta fought the beast, took its lands, and raised our fair tower. They say the battle took a week, and the dragon died for days.”

“I know who he is,” Hestrig responds curtly.

“It,” Jairess corrects.

“Excuse me?”

“We refer to dumb and wild beasts as ‘it.’ We reserve ‘he’ for people.”

There is a beat of silence.

“What news?” Hestrig asks flatly.

Jairess shrugs. “The rider escapes us. My ravens have tracked him as far as the Hoarwood, but there they lose him. And a whole regiment of troops.”

Hestrig’s brow furrows. “They’ve started the invasion already?”

“No,” Jairess laughs, "those were for Black Midnight.

“That’s… troubling. What will Jadwiga Nazhena do?”

“I don’t know.” Jairess pouts. “Radosek is in such a mood. I don’t even know if he’s told her yet.”

“Hasn’t told you? Must be losing your charms.” Hestrig turns on her heel and starts for the tower entrance, not waiting for a response.

Four Bells and All's Well

“Teb Knotten!”

The troll lurches from his cot, nearly smacking his head into the natural shelf overhanging it. “What?” he roars, squinting his slowly adjusting eyes. A wild, growling creature hunches low in the cave’s entrance, misty moonlight trickling in behind it. The bit of smoke and shadow that hovers in the air above it begins to resolve.

“Hommelstaub,” Teb says, more sedately.

“We have a guest,” Hommelstaub says, and nods to the wolf; it deposits a mass of blood and feathers on the cave floor. The mass emits a shuddering, pained hoot.

“Well well,” Teb clucks, swinging his legs over the side of his cot. He leans forward to inspect the bundle. “What have we here?” It hoots again, tremulously. Teb rises, broad feet slapping the bare floor. He settles down again next to the pygmy-owl.

He looks to Hommelstaub. “Where’d you find him?”

The atomie flutters down to rest between the wolf’s ears. “Squald spotted him. Spying.”

Teb rubs his knotted chin. “It’s alright, little one,” he coos. “It’s okay. I’m sorry you were treated roughly.” The owl hoots again, feebly. “Easy, little one. Easy. I’m Teb. What’s your name?” He listens as the owl replies.

“Abel,” Teb says. “That’s a good name, Abel. You must be far from home. What brings you so far into the woods?” He listens intently. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, I thought so.” He rises. “Thank you, Abel.” Hommelstaub arches an eyebrow at the display.

“I need you to do a favor for me, Abel. Can you do that? Can you do a favor for ol’ Teb?” A smile cracks Teb’s ruinous face. “Yes, I thought you could. Could you kindly tell your mistress to leave us the fuck alone? Could you do that, Abel? Leave us the fuck alone. We’ll get to her soon enough, we will.”

Abel lets out an alarmed hoot.

“No,” Teb says, after further consideration. "No, I’ve changed my mind. Teb stomps: once, hard. He looks to Hommelstaub: “Get Fawfein, tell him to round up some boys. I grow weary of that bird-brained bitch. Tell them to meet me at the circle for further instructions.”

Hommelstaub nods, then prods the wolf with the butt of his sickle; it takes his meaning, turns out into the snow. Teb follows, pausing only to wipe the sole of his gnarly foot on a nearby stone.

Amidst the Storm

“This is boring.”

Teb Knotten raises his head from his bunk to inspect the tiny fairy sitting on his shelf. “What did you expect, Hommelstaub?”

“Well, I mean… it’s an invasion, right? Can’t we… I don’t know, maybe invade something?”

“We’re holding the beachhead.”

“Beachhead,” Hommelstaub snorts. “We’re sitting around with our dicks in our hands, waiting for orders.”

“You’re welcome to take on Oppara single-handed, if you like. I’d recommend using your sword, though; your dick isn’t likely to make an impression when you swing it around.” Teb scratches at his prodigious nose.

“Not right now,” the fairy sulks, “it’s damn near rotted off from lack of use.”

Teb rolls his eyes; then shifts to his side, turning his back to the fairy.

“I should get a piece of that Vosi,” Hommelstaub mutters, more to himself than his companion. “I bet she’d be fun…”

“I thought sprites and atomies didn’t get along?” Teb asks over his shoulder.

“I want to take her behind the hut, not home to mother. Any port in a storm, you know?” Teb sniffs. “Oh, c’mon,” Hobbelstaub continues, “even you have to appreciate that thing she does with her hips just before she takes off.”

Teb snorts. “You all just look like food to me.”

“That’s cold, man. After all we’ve been through together? Cold.”

“I’m not the one with a sliver of ice in his heart,” Teb retorts sleepily.

Hommelstaub crosses his arms and hunkers down on the shelf. When he raises his eyes again, he finds the troll staring at him.

“It’s true, then,” Teb says, “they really do?” Hommelstaub eyes him sullenly. “What’s it like?” Silence. “Does it hurt?”

“I don’t like to talk about it,” the fairy mumbles into crossed arms. Teb hmms pensively.

“Are you two quite done stroking yourselves?” comes a scratchy, shrill voice from the cave’s entrance. Teb and Hommelstaub both turn at the sound. They stare mutely at the small, blue figure that wings her way in.

“Rokhar is dead,” Izoze says.

Teb raise himself to one elbow. “How?”


Teb’s brow furrows. “You said they were all killed.”

Izoze shrugs. “Must’ve missed a few.”

“Trouble?” Hommelstaub asks.

“Tough to say,” Izoze responds. “Rokhar wasn’t the sharpest icicle ever to hang from an eave. I’m half surprised he didn’t fall into the ravine. The rangers had help, though. Locals, I think. But a strange lot.”

“How many?”

“Three rangers. Couldn’t get a good look at the others, but it wasn’t more than a handful. The Sentinels seem content to stay in their lodge, and the others went back to that little shit hole.”

Teb sighs. “Well, I suppose it’s less cleanup for me in the long run.”

“What about the prisoner?” Hommelstaub interjects.

“Rescued, I believe. They took her back to the village.”

Hommelstaub looks to Teb Knotten, who remains silent.

“Teb,” the fairy finally ventures, “Nazhena will be—”

“You let me worry about Nazhena,” Teb interrupts testily. “That blue-blood bitch was just a sideshow, anyway.”

Teb swings his legs off the cot. “Go gather everyone,” he says, “it’s time to talk strategy.”

Waiting In the Dark

It’s been quiet for awhile now. As quiet as it gets, anyway: faint moans still seep through the floorboards above, and she can occasionally hear a shuffling and dragging sound. But there are no more screams, at least. No more whimpering or horrified shrieks. No more pleading.

Argentea isn’t sure how long she’s been without food. Since before the last clash up above, at least. Was that a day ago? Two? It’s hard to keep count, with only the thin, weak light between the floorboard cracks. She’s hungry, that much she knows.

Her eyes drift to the stairs, barely visible in the gloom. They trace it up to the ceiling, where she knows there’s a trapdoor. She’s been waiting for it to open, with both anticipation and apprehension. If food is to come, it’ll be through that door. But if it opens, will it be for food? Something happened up there. Something bad. She can only speculate as to what.

There’s another thing she knows: she won’t last much longer without food. Already she feels weak, listless. What food she had been getting provided little nourishment. She suspects that no further food would be coming, barring some dramatic changes in the situation upstairs.

She realizes that she needs to seriously contemplate the possibility of death. She finds, oddly, that it doesn’t bother her as much as she’d expect. Except, of course, that she knows things that Oppara needs to know. Things she learned in Zimar. Dreadful things.

Robyn's Adventure Log

Winds howl and swirl, whipping the ever-falling snow into a fury, yet it is still more comfortable out here in the wilderness with new companions than back in town. We seem to be no worse for wear, though I’m not sure how Maeller got soaking wet. We’re still miles from the river.

The monkey is not in sight… but I suppose he’s Harmall’s problem.

No one has spoken in hours, which is odd. Hopefully we’ll get to the lodge soon… the singer is now coated in ice. Why don’t we just stop and build a fire?


Either the weather is disturbing Marrok, or he’s picking up bad habits from the monkey. He’s roaming so far away in this blizzard that I can only catch brief glimpses of his grey form moving between the trees.

This is odd. The map shows nothing but slopes and hills along the trail, not cliffs. Yet this gorge is deep enough that the bottom can’t be seen through the snow. Well, I suppose it’s a good thing he is a hunter, not a cartographer.

In any case enough is enough. The singer’s skin is turning blue so it’s time to stop, cliff or no cliff.

The fire is warm, and Validar’s sleeping peacefully beside it. Maeller can’t seem to warm up, though. Ice still covers his clothing and his skin still has a sickly tone to it.

I thought wizards were supposed to be smart… this one’s gone off looking for the monkey.
Well, at least the snow is letting up. I can almost see the bottom of the gorge now.


At this point, Robyn hears something behind her. She turns, and sees a white hart.
The stag speaks to her, saying “You have much to learn, young one.”

It then charges at her, striking her solidly and knocking her off the cliff.

Everything turns into slow-motion. Robyn suddenly realizes that she hasn’t seen Marrok in hours and a feeling of dread comes over her. She cries out in despair, and grabs vainly at the air, as if that will keep her from falling.

The stag appears at the edge of the cliff, and Marrok appears next to it. The two animals turn to look at each other, and the white hart nods. Marrok leaps off the cliff toward Robyn, somehow falling faster than her. Just as they touch, the ground rises up to meet them, and everything goes black.


A rough, wet tongue on her cheek snaps Robyn back to consciousness. She wakes up, crying out Marrok’s name and giving the animal at her side a hug… before noticing that the wolf in her arms has fur the color of snow.

Mother's Return, Part 2

Fennec lays on the warm bearskin, marveling at how soft it feels, how comfortable after days and days on the hard ground. Heat from the crackling fireplace caresses him, welcome after a long trudge through the unexplainable snow.

No, not the fireplace; Blackpine.

Or, rather, something that used to be Blackpine. Shambling with a horribly twisted ankle, a raw stump of an arm, and whistling moans escaping through the hole in his throat. And dead eyes; glass eyes; the ghosts of eyes. Until Belladonna carved her sigils in the air and the thing that used to be Blackpine burst into flames.

Someone is screaming. It sounds like Belladonna.

Elsewhere, through a thick fog, Mother barks orders. “Draw it into the doorway!” Fennec hears. And: “Keep it busy, keep your distance!” And: “Who’s got Taillifer? Get her out!” And he hears all of the swooshes and thocks and grunts and howls—some human, some not. He hears it all through a thick veil, like cotton worming slowly into his ears, deeper and deeper.

“There’s something else here!” That was Podney, Fennec thinks, but it’s becoming hard to tell.

“Watch your sides. Back to back!” Mother again. Even muffled, her voice is unmistakable.

Fennec realizes that he can’t feel his legs. He raises his head to make sure they’re still there… and that’s when he learns he can’t raise his head anymore. The warmth that covers him like a blanket; that’s not the smoldering corpse—still twitching—next to him: it spreads out around him in a viscous pool, dripping between the scales of his armor, pumping ever more slowly from the rend in his gut. Fennec knows he’s bleeding out; he’s trying to feel something about it. But mostly he just feels… calm.

“This one’s alive too!” Podney again.

“Drag it!” Mother.

The whimpering, he supposes, is what’s left of Belladonna.

A face looms above him, out of the blackening fog. Greasy strands of black hair, a hooked and crooked nose, and too many glistening teeth.

“Defensible positions!” Mother shrieks.

“Hello there,” the looming face whispers, its breath hot and fetid. Something shines below it: a star? Fennec can’t tell. He struggles to see.

“Leave them!” Mother shouts. She might be choking back tears, or the choking might be Fennec: there’s blood welling up in his throat.

“I have such plans for you,” the face breathes.

The veil descends, and all is dark.

Mother's Return, Part 1

Mother had stood on the ridge, silent and still, for several minutes before Fennec drew up next to her.

“Mother…” he ventures.

“I know,” she says quietly.

Fennec coughs uncomfortably. “Mother…” he tries again.

“I know,” she says more sternly.

One last time: “Mother… why is there snow?”

She turns her good eye toward him, then looks back to the snow-covered valley spreading out from the ridge. “I don’t know,” she says quietly.

She watches the whorls of wind kick up little snow devils across the valley, scans the patches of trees and the distant treeline. The snow worries her: her rangers are equipped for the searing heat of Zimar and Qadira, not this unnatural winter. The tiny flits of movement through the trees, so subtle they could be imagined, worry her. And, as she scans above the trees, the conspicuously absent column of smoke from Red Run Gorge worries her.

“Get everyone up and readied,” she tells Fennec. “Let’s get back to the lodge. Hopefully Bullroarer will have some answers for us.”

Robyn's Adventure log.



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