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"An Icy Grave" : A Tale of Two Brothers

Jon Potter

Part 16: Sleep Tight

Frustrated, Malak tossed down the clothing that he'd been looking through and turned back to his brother.
"Nothin'!" the cleric huffed. "There be naught 'ere ta explain tha presence o' this creature we fought."
"Nae explanation, perhaps. But we might be learnin' a bit o' how it moves about," Karak replied. He hauled himself across the room to the fireplace and kicked at the snow with his boot. As he had suspected, he could see the grate-covered shaft set back in the hearth that lead downward to the furnace far below. "Think ye that mayhap tha beastie is able ta enter through tha vents o' tha fireplace?"
"I dunno, chalak," the Battleguard replied with a weary shake of his head. "There's nothin' o' this creature what is sure 'ceptin' that it's a cold-blooded killer."
"Aye," Karak nodded. "But if'n he be able ta move through tha vents, then I wonder if'n he'll be returnin' via tha front gate or nae."
"Meanin' that tha front hall is as safe a place as any ta bed down?" Malak asked and Karak nodded, tapping his nose with his forefinger.
"Ye got it, chalak," he said, "Right on tha nose. I say we wait out tha night an' tha storm an' head on our way ta deliver tha King's message come mornin'."
"I second that," Malak agreed. He started for the door saying, "We'll sleep tha night in shifts and-"
"Hold up a moment 'ere," his brother said, looking up at the light crossbow hanging above the fireplace. He peered closely at the dwarven runes inscribed on the weapon's stock and plucked once at its taut bowstring. "Hmm, this crossbow seems ta be very finely made, by dwarves o' course. I wonder if'n these bolts be magical?"
He picked up the leather quiver that rested on the mantle and showed them to Malak.
"These ten 'ere," he said. "Well what say ye?"
"I dunno, chalak," his brother said again. "I know little o' enchanted arrows."
"Did tha faerie clerics teach ye how ta shoot or just sing songs?" Karak grumbled and the Battleguard shot him a menacing look.
"I'd be holdin' me tongue were I ye," Malak said. "Twasn't me what mother always said cou' chant like Vergadain hisself, I'll be remindin' ye!"
Karak scowled and lowered his head.
"Dinna be bringin' mother into this," he grumbled and grabbed both the crossbow and quiver. "I'll carry these."

Marglos, the 17th or Rethe, 1269 AE

Malak took first watch, and he tended the fire and meditated on Shaharizod to keep himself awake while his brother snored beside him. The sun was not yet up when he woke Karak and changed places with him. The warrior donned his armor and began fiddling with the crossbow to keep himself awake.
It didn't work very well to stave off slumber, and he was awakened sometime later by an icy cold wind blowing through the front door as it opened and shut quickly and quietly. In the brief moment that the door was opened, he could see that it was full daylight outside and that the snow still fell in buckets full. Karak, who sat facing the door across their makeshift bonfire, watched as a shaggy, snow-covered shape stood stealthily by the front door, surveying the dwarves' campsite. The warrior pretended for the moment to still be asleep at his post, and peered at the figure through his bushy eyebrows.
It was man-sized and man-shaped, with long black hair and beard both crusted over with snow and ice. Its face above the beard was darkened by lengthy exposure to the sun. It was dressed in pelts of various types sewn together with sinew. Bone ornaments were strung on a thong about its neck.
It sniffed at the air and began to creep quietly toward them.

Jon Potter

Part 17: Meet the Neighbors

The shaggy man crept toward the dwarves' campsite, his eyes darting from the two dwarven forms to the archways leading out of the room to the mangled goat corpse to the stairs up and back again in a constant cycle. His head twitched nervously as the fire popped and he seemed ready to flee at the slightest provocation. His eyes - which were a shade of blue that verged on white - seemed wild as they peered about in the semi-darkness.
He approached Malak, who was nearer the door than Karak, and hovered near the sleeping dwarf. He studied him intently, and Karak saw one mittened hand slip beneath the fur shawl the man wore. Whether he was reaching for a weapon or not, Karak couldn't wait to see.
He stood up all at once, his armor clattering loudly in the entryway, and the scraggily man fell backwards onto his behind. He began scrambling on the timeworn tile floor, looking fearfully at Karak as he did so.
"Hold," the dwarf said in the Common tongue, laying a hand on one of the throwing axes tucked into his girdle for emphasis, "before ye make a mistake what'll have ye wishin' yer mother had tha foresight nae ta e'en meet yer father."
The man stopped moving, and Malak began to stir. The Battleguard peered wearily up at his brother through one squinting eye.
"We've a visitor, me chalak," the warrior told his brother and angled his chin at the man.
The cleric rolled over, looked at the man and got hastily to his feet.
"Who are ye?" he asked with a scowl.
"Who are you?" the man responded his head cocked back so that he looked at them down the length of his face. His nostrils flared rhythmically.
"I am Malak, son o' Kignar, faithful Battleguard o' Shaharizod. I journey south with a message from me king," Malak said.
"And I am Karak, son o' Kignar, loyal warrior o' clan Stoutgut. I journey with me brother ta deliver our king's message," Karak said.
"Now tell us yer name and yer business with us," Malak added, glaring fiercely at the man.
"I am Kairem," the man said, getting slowly to his feet. "And no business have I with you."
Malak could see now that the man's leather clothes, while certainly primitive in their construction, would likely serve the man as effective armor. He carried a hatchet in his belt much as Karak did, but the man's weapon was obviously hand-made with a chipped obsidian head lashed with sinew to a bone handle. In fact, the only object that showed any craftsmanship at all was the round buckler he wore on his left forearm. Kairem kept that arm beneath his furs, so Malak had only a glimpse of it, but it appeared to be made of steel.
"Come, Kairem," Karak said, indicating that the man should sit beside the fire, "why be ye here on a day such as this?"
"Why are you here?" Kairem asked warily. His eyes kept darting about as if he suspected that the dwarves were laying some kind of trap for him.
"We be takin' respite from this storm. Are ye?" Karak told him.
"Then know you nothing of this place?" the man asked and crept a little closer to the fire.
"Nae much," Malak told him, "but what our guide said we might find respite here."
"Guide?" Kairem asked, his head swiveling about in search of the guide. "Another is with you?"
"Arngrim was our guide," the cleric said. "But he disappeared yesterday when tha storm started. We've nae seen him since."
"Mmmm," the man intoned, seeming to relax a little. "Dangerous places are the mountains. Much bad can befall the uncareful."
"Are ye familiar with th' area?" Karak asked. "Know ye much o' this 'ere monastery?"
Kairem shook his head quickly and crouched down beside the fire.
"Much I do not know," he said. "But a little I do. Evil, these men were - witches working terrible magics. All dead they are. A great and hungry spirit lives here now. Kill you both, he will if you stay."
"We've seen this spirit," Karak growled, his frown deepening as he remembered the thing's chilling touch.
"And alive you are," Kairem said, sounding impressed. "Mighty warriors must you be."
The man smiled at them and Malak noticed that his teeth were all wrong for a human. They were all sharply pointed, even those in front which should have been flat along the bottom like a dwarf's. The man caught the cleric staring at his teeth and raised his hand to his mouth.
"Here, not much grows," Kairem said. "But meat there is. Eat meat to live. Sharp teeth work better for meat."
Malak began to study their new acquaintance with renewed interest.
"Do ye know this part o' tha mountains?" Karak asked. "We'd like ta be away from this place, but ken nae tha way."
"Oh, yes," Kairem said and stood up. "Know the way, I do. Nearby is better shelter. There no spirits live. There I have food."
Malak caught enough of a look at Kairem's buckler to see that it was indeed made of steel. Its edge was engraved all around with what looked like dwarven runes. What they said, Malak could not say as he didn't get a good enough look at them.
"Follow me to better shelter now?" the man asked, gesturing toward the door. "To stay here is not safe."

Jon Potter

Part 18: A Perfect Storm

Karak and Malak exchanged a look during which they both decided that following the man out of the monastery was preferable to staying in it. No matter what awaited them outside, it had to be better than what they already knew existed in this evil place.
"Aye, Kairem," Malak said to the man. "We'll follow ye. Let us gather our gear an' we'll be ready."
The man nodded and smiled broadly at them.
As the brothers walked toward the cluttered pile of provisions they had retrieved from the remains of Arngrim's goat Malak spoke quietly to his brother.
"I definitely mistrusts this human, me chalak," the Battleguard muttered in dwarfish. "If'n 'e knows how evil this 'ere place can be, why wou' 'e enter it and find us? And 'e must 'ave crept up on us rather quietly for ye nae ta notice 'im while ye' were on guard."
Karak nodded his head, color creeping into his cheeks.
"Aye, he crept up right quiet, a'right," the warrior said. "I'm thinkin' 'e may be dangerous, but hopefully nae somethin' we two kinna 'andle."
Malak nodded as they stuffed gear into their packs.
"Those things aside, that buckler 'e's wearin', well best I can tell - 'e got it from a dwarf," the cleric said. "There be runes along th' edge what I kinna make out, but trust me, me chalak, they were dwarven."
"Mayhap 'e got it for helpin' a dwarf or two," Karak hypothesized. "That'd explain why 'e trusts us so much. Why wou' 'e go an' bring two strangers ta 'is shelter? He dinna seem wary o' us in tha least."
"Well, we last saw that evil spirit make its way out that same door 'e came in," Malak countered. "How do we know that's nae him come back as a human form?"
Karak harrumphed and cast a glance at Kairem. The stranger stood beside the door staring at them silently.
"Tha' may be," Karak answered in a soft voice, "but 'e might be th' only chance we got ta get out o' this 'ere place ta somewhere less... uh... evil."
"Indeed, me chalak. Ye be right with that, but we best nae be lettin' our guard down at all whiles we travel with 'im." Malak said.
"Agreed," Karak nodded and hauled his pack up onto his shoulders.
The cleric took a last look at the gear that they would be unable to transport because it just wouldn't fit. He sighed.
"We be ready," Malak told Kairem, as he turned and headed for the door.

When they had discovered the monastery almost by accident the day before, the weather had been severe. It had worsened during the night.
As before, the wind bit at their exposed flesh and froze their breath to their beards, but it no longer served to scour clean the rocky path. Too much precipitation had accumulated during the night, and its surface had frozen to a thin glaze of ice that wouldn't support their weight, but made wading through it even more difficult. The blinding sheets of snow cut their visibility more effectively than darkness ever could have, and they hustled to keep the shaggy shadow of their guide in sight.
Karak, in his heavy armor, soon began to lag behind. Malak turned back and could barely see the shape of his brother amidst the swirling white. He stopped and turned back toward Kairem. His shape was indistinct, obliterated almost entirely by the snow.
"Oy! Kairem!" Malak called into the wind and waited for Karak to catch up.
Kairem seemed to be waiting for them as well; they could just make him out at the extent of their vision. Once they started moving again, so did he - staying close enough always for them to see him.
They marched along that way, struggling to keep up with their guide, for what seemed like hours. They lost sight of him at times, and of each other a time or two as well. It was unclear where they were going and at no point did the weather improve. The cold continued to work against the two dwarves, however.
At last, Malak stumbled, slumping forward onto his hands and knees. Karak hustled to his brother's side and lifted him upright.
"Malak," the warrior cried. "Can ye stand?"
"I dunno, chalak," the cleric responded, breathlessly. "I canno' feel me feet."
Grunting, Karak hauled his brother upright and put the cleric's arm around his shoulder.
"Mayhap me constitution's met its match," Malak chuckled sardonically. "I'm feelin' a wee bit numb."
In truth, it was a great deal worse than that. His limbs felt like lead, and it was all he could do to keep his head up. His fingers had begun to develop a painful tingle similar to the one that had settled into his feet a short while before.
"Where be tha' moss-covered, anvil-droppin' rock runt o' a guide?" Karak growled impotently into the storm. "Do ye see 'im?"
"Nae," Malak muttered. "But methinks it dinna matter, chalak. I think 'e's been leadin' us 'round in circles."

Jon Potter

Part 19: Between a Blizzard and a Cold Place

Malak slumped limply back to his knees and Karak bellowed into the storm once more, hoping to see Kairem's shape appear in the snow. But all he saw was the sheet of white he had been squinting into since they left what now seemed to be the peaceful shelter of the monastery.
"I cinna go on, me chalak," Malak determined, as difficult as it was for him to admit.
"Aye, ye can!" Karak assured him. "Remember tha tales o' Clanggedin! There be nae room for surrender!"
The cleric shook his head miserably.
"Me feet are gone, me legs are gone, me 'ead be full o' confusion," he said, looking at his brother with eyes full of cold-induced apathy. "It be tellin' me what a grand idea it be ta lie down ta sleep right 'ere, right now. But I know better."
The warrior hooked his hands beneath his brother's arms and tried hauling him to his feet once more. But Malak's groan made him stop.
"Ye' have ta go on," the Battleguard said. "Ye' must try ta catch up with that hairy, pointy-toothed, dwarf killer an' put an end ta 'im. I'll huddle up 'ere and wait for ye ta find shelter. Shaharizod will surely take care o' me until ye come back."
To Karak's ears, it seemed like just another excuse for his brother to lie down and die. And much as he would like to bury his war axe in Kairem's skull, Karak knew better than to leave his brother there alone. He would never do it.
"Well, it seems what either way tha cold'll be tha death o' us. But I for one've nae give up hope yet," Karak told the cleric. "Any dwarf worth 'is gold knows how ta make a snow cave."
The Battleguard harrumphed and made a weak gesture with his hand.
"I can nae build anythin'," he admitted. "Me arms be too heavy ta e'en hold up."
The only chance they had was to make a crude shelter and hope it would protect them. He'd heard tales o' dwarven outriders protectin' themselves in such fashion, but had secretly hoped that his brother would know more about the details of such a project than he, himself, did. He thought for a moment and shrugged out of his pack, not sure exactly what he was to do, but knowing it was the only hope they had.
"Well, Malak, I suggest ye start a prayin' whilst I get ta work," Karak said. He was surprised to hear himself add, "May Shaharizod be with us."
As his brother began packing the snow into a pile, Malak closed his eyes and began to speak to the Silver Queen.
"'Tis I once again, Malak tha humble servant o' Shaharizod," he prayed. "Havin' given so much o' me life ta yer duty me Queen, I ask yer now for all tha help ye can bestow. A break in tha storm so's we can make shelter, for surely without such, I'll nae be able ta work yer word 'ere any longer. Me feels th' end approachin', and begs yer help, O' Queen."
Malak felt the touch of the divine, and feeling began to seep back into his numbed body.
Karak labored furiously to pile and pack the snow into a wall, but the material was most unlike working in stone, and it seemed to collapse almost as quickly as he could build it. He wouldn't give up, however, and each collapse pushed him to work harder and faster. He redoubled his efforts despite the fact that the wind-driven snow seemed more intent on burying him than it did on forming one wall of a shelter.
Malak opened his eyes and watched Karak scramble about in the snow, futiley trying to shore up his snow wall. The cleric's few moments alone with Shaharizod had cleared his head as well as return sensation to his extremities, and he had an idea.
"Karak!!" he shouted into the storm. "Come close, I've an idea!"
The warrior cleared the snow around his waist and knees and dropped to where Malak sat, now nearly chest deep in the heavy, frozen powder.
"What say ye, chalak?" Karak asked. "Was tha Queen o' some help ta ye?"
The Battleguard nodded and held out his hand to his brother.
"I need ye' ta right me. 'Elp me get ta me feet," Malak said, hoping that his brief rest would help him find his ground again.
Karak helped him to his feet, and marveled at the improvement in his brother's physical condition.
"Ye can stand," he said and Malak smiled back at him.
"More than that, me chalak," he said. "I may have found us a way outen this."
The Battleguard knew without thinking about it that both of Shaharizod's mirrors were at the half. Great Celune was on the wane, while Meruna, the Handmaiden, was waxing toward full. Even now, he knew the Handmaiden was above the horizon, but it would be hours before Celune made her appearance. He looked to the sky and tried to divine where Orin's Shield lay. If he could find it, he might be able to determine where Celune would rise into the heavens and from that, navigate them to shelter. He would have to rely heavily on Karak to help him move through the snow, but at least
Shaharizod had heard his plea and graced him with a respite from his descent into numbness.
Malak's spirits were buoyed by his plan and he hoped that it would have the same effect on his brother.
"What be yer plan, me chalak?" Karak asked. "I be willin' ta try anythin' ta get out o' this infernal blizzard, but if'n we're ta do somethin', it best be soon. Elsewise let me get back ta buildin' me snow cave."
The Battleguard didn't answer immediately, but tried desperately to see any sort of lightening in the dismal gray cloudcover that pressed down above them. At first, it didn't seem likely that he'd be able to discern the sun's location; the clouds were so thick and heavy. But at last he shouted, "There! Methinks Orin's Shield shou' be that-a-way"
He pointed into the whiteness Over Karak's left shoulder. The dwarf looked in that direction and shrugged.
"What o' it?" he asked.
"If'n that be tha Shield an' Meruna be there," the cleric pointed excitedly in the opposite direction, "then Greatmoon will rise just ta tha west o' her Handmaiden an' tha monastery be that-a-way!"
Karak hadn't progressed nearly far enough in his training to predict the phases and positions of Shaharizod's Mirrors, but he knew well enough that it was a skill Battlegaurds honed keenly. He trusted his brother to be able to tell him what either moon's phase was at any given time of day, but wasn't so sure about the other stuff. Still, at least Malak had come out of his near fugue state.
Karak hauled himself to his feet and grabbed his pack.
"It seems what I'm havin' a wee bit o' trouble with me snow cave anyway," the warrior said grimly. "So let's be tryin' yer plan."
He placed his arm about his brother's shoulders, and hoped for the best.

They pressed on into the storm, with Malak leading a pace or two ahead. Karak's movement was still slowed by his armor, but Malak was now weakened so by the cold that he could move little faster even given his less encumbering protection. The Battleguard stopped often - every couple dozen paces - to make certain that they were still on the correct approach to find the monastery that had gone from potential tomb to their only hope of survival in half-a-day.
As they walked, Karak began to sink into the same funk that had nearly overtaken his brother earlier.
"I dunno, me chalak," he grumbled. "I'm a gettin' pissed on by tha Gods again, I figure."
"What are ye talkin' 'bout, Karak?" the cleric asked.
His brother looked at him and began counting things off on his fingers.
"First I gets our guide killed, then we ends up in a haunted monastery," he explained. "I about get frozed ta death by some ghost, and then, ta top it off, I decide: 'Hey, chalak, I got an idea, let's us go for a nice walk in tha middle o' a blizzard'. Let's face it; I was meant ta be a forge singer, I guess, an' that's it."
He dropped down onto his butt in the snow, his pack overbalanced him and he went sprawling on his back.
Malak turned to his brother and shook his head.
"Ye're a great fool, ye know that?" he grumbled. "Ye've left out tha part o' tha story where ye fought off skeletons, an' zombies, an' golems, went toe-ta-toe with an ice ghost, an' saved me life."
The Battleguard bent over and grabbed Karak by the wrist.
"On yer feet, now," he commanded. "Remember tha words o' our ancestors: 'victors stride ever forward'!"
Karak harrumphed but struggled to regain his footing.
"When did ye start quotin' clan lore?" the warrior asked once he was standing.
Malak shrugged and said simply, "Sometimes tha old words be tha best words."
Karak shook his head and smiled, recognizing his own words come back to haunt him.
"I still think I was meant ta be a forge singer," he said as they fell back into line and began trudging toward the monastery.
As if to prove the truth of his words, the warrior proceeded to bellow out a deep-throated, resonating chant detailing Clanggedin's first victory over Grolantor, god of the Hill Giants. He'd almost finished the recitation, reaching the point in the tale where the Lord of Battles imparts his knowledge of giant fighting to the First Dwarves, when he collided with Malak.
"Oy!" he sputtered and nearly fell over.
"There it be!" his brother said, pointing ahead at a dark fissure that was dimly visible through the sheets of driving snow. He turned excitedly toward Karak and said, "There it-"
Behind the warrior, Malak saw a hunched, furry shape moving swiftly and silently toward them through the snow. A glimpse of the obsidian and bone axe in the man's hand, told the cleric everything he needed to know about Kairem's intent.
"Karak! Behind ye!" Malak warned and his brother turned to look over his shoulder. Karak saw Kairem closing on them rapidly and shrugged out of his backpack.
"Prepare yerself, chalak," the warrior said. "This ends now."
The Battleguard knew from Karak's tone of voice that there was no room for argument and he wriggled free of his own pack.
Karak hefted his war axe and rolled his shoulders to work the fatigue out of them. As their former guide drew to within two axe lengths, the dwarf felt the last of the tension drain down his body and into the earth beneath his feet.
"As Shaharizod is me witness, I vow this: with Her Strength, I will hold an' me blade will swing true," Karak cried in Dwarfish.
Malak was surprised by his brother's proclamation; it was rare to hear the Silver Queen's name pass Karak's lips as part of anything other than a curse. Apparently, Shaharizod chose not to bear witness to the warrior's oath, however. Kairem's weapon came in low, just beneath the great curved blade of Karak's war axe and struck the dwarf on the left elbow with enough force to drive him to the ground.
Karak's blood - which looked very red indeed against the stark white that surrounded them - began to stain the snow.
Malak swung his claymore at Kairem, but he was distracted by his brother's condition, and the blow was clumsy. The shaggy man was able to easily avoid it.
"Pushed you into the chasm like th' other, I should've!" the guide ranted. "Long climb to fetch you after, though!"
Malak gritted his teeth and slashed outward with his blade and this time, it swung true. The point of the claymore cut across Kairem's chest, rending the leather armor and the flesh beneath. The guide cried out and tried to fend off the cleric with a wild swing of his hatchet.
Karak felt sure that he was dying, but he wasn't ready to accept that fact easily. He struggled to clear his mind of the weakness that seemed intent on keeping him sprawled in the snow. He saw the haft of his war axe rising out of a drift nearby and reached for it with a hand stained red with his own blood.
The Battleguard pressed his attack, savagely swinging his blade. The cold and the snow continued to work against him, and the claymore couldn't find its way through Kairem's defenses. The shaggy man, who seemed indifferent to the weather, was having little trouble landing blows on Malak, however; the hatchet struck Malak a glancing blow to the abdomen.
Karak grabbed his war axe and hauled himself unsteadily to his feet an instant before a hatchet blow struck the snow where he'd been lying. Another hairy shadow loomed suddenly out of the snow, and the warrior swung his axe at it without success.
Malak and Kairem traded blows, with neither hitting. It was obvious that, while the man had the advantage of terrain, the dwarf was better versed in combat.
Karak and the newcomer to the battle attacked as one, but only the dwarf's weapon struck true; the obsidian hatchet dinged harmlessly off Karak's helmet. The war axe bit hungrily into the man's left thigh, opening a wound all the way to the bone.
The man cried out and pressed his hand against the horrid gash. He started to turn and Karak's backswing caught him on the right knee, dropping him unceremoniously into the snow.
Malak and Kairem continued to seek an opening in each other's defenses, but neither was willing to yield. Time and again, Malak's blows clanged against the man's buckler. At last, as Kairem brought his hatchet down toward the cleric's head, Malak's claymore rose to parry, but met the man's forearm rather than his weapon. Hot blood spattered down on Malak's face and Kairem squealed in pain, nearly dropping his axe.
The Battleguard had found his weakness, and he pressed the advantage, striking the man's weapon arm again. This time Kairem did drop his axe and staggered backward into the snow. He raised the shining buckler to ward off Malak's advancing claymore, but he saw nothing of Karak's war axe.
The great weapon struck him in the back, cleaving through his spine and killing him instantly.
The two brothers stood facing each other over Kairem's corpse, their teeth bared in a grimace of fury, their breath pumping out of their lungs in great clouds of steam.
Malak wiped blood off his lips and looked at his brother. Karak's left arm, from the elbow down was glistening red. Blood dripped slowly into the snow at his side.
"Chalak, ye need aid," the cleric said.
"Aye," Karak agreed. "But nae here. Let's be gettin' outen tha snow, 'fore I freeze well an' good."
Malak nodded and went to retrieve his pack.
Karak reached down and wrestled the buckler free of Kairem's dead limb and looked at it. It was, indeed, a fine artifact of such high quality that even if dwarven runes hadn't encircled it round about, its manufacture by dwarves would still have been clear. On the outer face of the small shield the runes read:
"Good runes give aid in the river of axes."
And on the inside rim were etched the words:
"This shield was forged by Thurgood for his thane, the noble Arngrim Barzak of Taerdal."

Jon Potter

Part 20: Some Well Deserved Rest

Karak shoved the buckler into the wide band of his girdle and moved to the second corpse. The body looked very similar to Kairem, right down to the sharply filed teeth; the two men could have been brothers. The dwarf knelt down into the snow and checked the man's throat. There was no lifebeat. He had bled to death from the two wounds to his legs.
Karak spied a bulging pouch at the man's belt and ripped it free with a single tug. It jingled in his hand - full of coins from the sound of it.
He slung his war axe and picked up a handful of snow. He pressed the snow against his left elbow, working the stuff in between the plates of armor there so that it made its way to the injury sight.
"Let's go, chalak," he grunted as Malak approached with his brother's pack in his arms. "I am right about tired o' this miserable snow."
The Battleguard nodded.
"Aye. We best be gettin' ye' ta some shelter," he said. "Ye looks ta need more than just a wee bit o' healin'"
Karak harrumphed and they trudged toward the cleft in the cliff face.
It seemed ironic to Malak that he had shuddered at the sight of the place a few hours before, and now, looking up at the figures of Orin and Merikka in the iron gate, a sense of calm fell over him. He knew better than to feel too at ease with the place, there was certainly enough evil there for a hundred men, but it provided shelter and a place to shake the bone-numbing cold that had clung to him for much too long now. Besides, the figure of Shaharizod in the room of statues would be a most welcome sight.
Karak gave a futile tug at the gate as they passed, trying to pull it closed behind them. It was too firmly anchored in place by snow and ice to budge, however, and he soon gave up the effort.
Nothing more assaulted them as they waded through the snow to the front steps and entered the building itself. The fire that they had lit in the front hall had burned down to a bed of smoking coals, but the heat that it put out settled over them like a welcome blanket. Once the door was closed and they heard the latch click into place, they shrugged free of their packs and moved eagerly toward the warmth.

Malak attended to his brother's injuries once his own fingers had warmed enough to permit him to work the healer's craft. The wound to Karak's elbow was a savage one and it required stitching up in addition to the application of salves and clean bandages. The cleric offered a swallow of Quilarri to his twin for the pain.
"Nae too much," he warned," lessin' ye want ta find yerself addled if'n that ghost wraith attacks us again."
In truth, his healing supplies were rapidly dwindling. Less than a week out of Dwurheim and already he'd used up more than half his kit.
"Aye," the warrior nodded grimly, handing back the tiny flask of liquid. "Malak, I now fear that while we were gone tha ghost wraith could have made its way back in 'ere. What say ye, after ye fix me arm we go up and check his room? Then we can 'ole up ere again and get some rest."
"A goodly plan," the Battleguard told him. "Once that be done, I thinks ye're right - lets go lookin' for that spirit before it starts lookin' for us. Daylight is on our side. Let's nae waste any."
As Malak carefully stitched up his left arm, Karak held up the buckler he'd taken off Kairem's corpse and looked at it in the firelight. Malak's claymore had struck it solidly more than a few times, but it showed not so much as a single nick in its polished surface.
"This is one fine buckler given ta a thane," he told his brother. "Ye be tha one who noticed it and fought well against tha beast even though ye be a soft miracle worker."
Malak harrumphed and tugged a bit at the thread, making Karak wince a little.
"I think ye've earned this battle honor," the warrior went on. He looked at it longingly for a moment, appreciating its martial value and fine dwarven make before he added, "Beside, it'd just get in tha way o' me swing."
"That's right kind o' ye," Malak said as he snipped the thread with a small pair of scissors and began to bandage up the wound. "I'll gladly accept such an honor though me own weapon requires two hands for tha time bein' as well. Truth be told, I'm nae near as fond o' me claymore as ye are o' that axe!"
"That axe has saved both our lives a time or two, chalak," Karak grumbled and put down the buckler. He picked up the belt pouch he'd taken off the other corpse and worked the drawstring loose with his free hand. Inside were some bronze karns and dikarns and an electrum pekarn or two - perhaps 50 gold worth in total - and three severed dwarf fingers.
"Gaw!" Karak hissed. Sharply pointed teeth had obviously gnawed on one of the fingers rather extensively.
"Sharp teeth are better ta eat meat," the cleric repeated what Kairem had told them. "He was tellin' tha truth, it seems. He jus' dinna mention what kind o' meat 'e was fond o'."
A clear and disturbing picture was beginning to develop in Malak's mind about what had happened to Arngrim. He wished it wouldn't. Such a death was unfitting any dwarf, and unfitting especially a dwarven thane. No dwarf worthy o'-
Karak's head began to slump; his eyes had already closed.
"Chalak!" the Battleguard said and his brother jerked his head up. "I warned ye ta go easy on tha' Quilarri."
"I'm jus' a wee bit tired is all," Karak explained, blinking his eyes. "I'll be fine."
"Ye'll get yerself killed is what ye'll do," his brother corrected. "Ye get some rest an' I'll take first watch. We'll worry about our friend the ghost wraith after we've 'ad a bit o' sleep."
Karak wasted no effort to discourage his brother, but simply gathered his sleep gear and lay down near the fire.
The Battleguard fished in his medicine satchel and produced a vial of juniper berry distillate. With any luck, the stimulant would keep him awake long enough for his brother to regain some of his strength.

It worked and he instructed Karak to drink some of the juniper berry once it was his turn to sit watch.
Malak feared that he stimulant might keep him awake, but he sank into slumber as soon as his head touched the floor. Karak sat watch as the night wore on with no sound reaching his ears except the raging howl of the storm. He checked the oil-soaked rags they had bound round their weapons, and added some to his war axe. The rest of the time, he tended the fire and cleaned both their suits of armor. He had just finished with Malak's scalemail when over the sound of the wind outside, he heard the distant sighing sound that they had heard before in the furnace room. The sound began to grow louder.
"Chalak!" the warrior said, nudging his brother out of sleep with his steel-shod boot. "It comes!"

Bob Aberton

Great story hour d00d.

I like the premise, about the two dwarf brothers and all. Keep writing; this story hour has real good potential.

Plus, I like the way the cold weather actually seems to be a danger in this storyhour. I haven't seen the heroes worrying about the weather hazards in any other 'hours but this one, and it adds depth.

Jon Potter

Bob Aberton said:
Great story hour d00d.
Thanks. I'm glad to hear that someone is reading and enjoying this.

I like the premise, about the two dwarf brothers and all. Keep writing; this story hour has real good potential.
Sadly, there's not much left of the tale. This particular adventure ends after part 22. There's a bit more detailing the preliminaries of the next adventure, but both players decided to switch characters before completing it. some I'm hesitant to post an incomplete story that leaves the pair standing outside their objective.

And as far as the dwarven brother concept goes, that was entirely a player decision. They worked on rolling them together and creating their intertwined histories. Then they started calling each other 'chalak' and the rest is history.

Plus, I like the way the cold weather actually seems to be a danger in this storyhour.
SEEMS to? Malak very nearly died during their little walkabout. And, as Karak would say, "freezin' ta death be nae fit way fer a dwarf ta die!"

Jon Potter

Part 21: Lord of the Manor

Malak needed no further prompting. Instantly awake, he rolled out of his blanket and grabbed his scaled hauberk. As he worked to don his armor, Karak outlined some tactics that might aid them in the coming battle.
"We know that tha Frost Wraith be harmed by fire and I think light," the warrior said. "We cou' jus' defend ourselves from it with a ring o' fire or torches an' wait 'til tha storm blows out. But I thinks we need ta dispatch this thing for once and all."
"I agree, chalak," the Battleguard said. "But we ought ta stay very near th' fire for th' moment. It'll offer us an advantage over this Wraith."
Karak nodded.
"We've another advantage," he said and indicated the clay jugs of cooking oil. "I'll fight it an' lure it ta tha fire. Then ye hit it with tha oil and mayhap a torch as well if'n I gets into any trouble."
Malak smiled at his brother.
"I'm glad we're clanbrothers, chalak," the cleric said. "I'd nae want ye as me enemy."

The sighing sound that heralded the Wraith's approach grew as it came, and by the time Karak could see the blizzard white thing moving down the stairs from above, the sound was a full-fledged roar. The warrior clutched his war axe defensively and set his feet at the base of the stairs. The Wraith drifted slowly down the stairs, its face set in an undead grimace of hatred, its eyes glowing with cold rage. The snow and ice billowing around it whipped the Wraith's hair and habit and ruffled the dwarf's beard as the thing descended eagerly.
Midway down the stairs, it stopped and looked skeptically at the fire burning in the foyer below and at Malak standing behind it.
Karak shifted his feet and sneered up at the thing.
It sneered back but did not advance toward the fire.
"Come on!" Karak growled at the Wraith. "Ye want me? Here I be!"
The light in the Wraith's black eye sockets flared and it started to turn back toward the upper floors.
"Face me, Alluzin!" the dwarf cried out, testing his theory that the Frost Wraith had been the Abbot in life.
The floating thing spun violently toward Karak, its face stretching and twisting into a mask of hatred so terrible that it turned the dwarf's gut to ice. It gripped the railing, and a spidery layer of frost began to spread from its hand, covering the images carved there of Orin and Fir Flinderkin. For a moment it hovered on the stairs and Karak could hear the banister creak as the Wraith's unliving grip tightened on it.
Then all at once, it came at him. Its mouth yawned wide in a soundless roar. Its glittering ice claws slashed savagely at the air.
Karak held his ground, lowering the head of his axe into the flames behind him. He kept his eyes on his opponent however, waiting for the Wraith to draw nearer to the fire. He was hit by a wave of bitter cold an instant before it was upon him, and at that moment he dodged. Its claws split the air to his left as he moved right, ducking beneath its skeletal arms.
He had hoped that the creature would simply blunder headlong into the fire, but it stopped short of that and turned on him abruptly. The dwarf swung his war axe in a vicious arc that struck the Wraith a bone-crunching blow to the head. Black mist began to leak from the thing's broken skull and it swooned backward into the fire.
It began at once to writhe and twist amidst the conflagration.
Malak heaved one of the pottery jugs of oil into the fire where it shattered amidst the coals and burning wood. The flames at once roared to twice their height, obscuring the Wraith's pain-wracked form. Both dwarves were obliged to back away from the fire. Malak singed his beard in the process. The fire was so bright and hot that they couldn't see the humanoid shadow moving in its midst until the charred remains of the Frost Wraith fell unmoving onto the floor beside it. Tendrils of black energy rose smokily up off its withered bones.
Before they could gloat in the Wraith's demise, however, a low rumbling began to move through them. The chandelier above their heads tinkled and they heard something glass shatter against the floor in another room.
They both knew what that meant.
"Earthquake!" Karak bellowed as the rumbling grew louder.
Malak looked at the staircase. It was undulating up and down like a serpent's body - mere moments away from breaking free of its moorings.
"We must get out!" the Battleguard said and gathered up a double armload of his gear.
For a moment, Karak stared at a crack forming in the rear wall. It grew upwards from the floor, becoming wider and deeper as it went. When it reached the ceiling it would send the whole thing down on them.
"Come on!" Malak roared as chunks of plaster rained down around him.
Karak grabbed his things from the fireside and made for the door.
Outside, they found that the storm had stopped and stars crowded the night sky. They had only a moment to take assessment of that before the cliffside above the monastery split with a resounding CRACK! The huge sculptures of the gods began to break apart and rain down onto the portico. Karak and Malak staggered halfway across the courtyard before they realized that they had moved beyond the scope of the earthquake. It seemed centered on and only to affect the monastery.
But that wasn't the most bizarre thing.
They stood there dumbfounded as a slow procession of shadowy figures dressed in dark robes filed out of the crumbling front door of the monastery, moved down the stairs and across the courtyard. They passed the two dwarves without acknowledging them and moved through the gates into the pass beyond. Only the last figure in the line was different; it was a dwarf carrying an ice axe. His beard was woven into two fat braids and the braids were threaded through his wide girdle. Like the others, he paid neither Karak nor Malak any mind.
When all the figures had passed the gate they turned and looked back. The twins followed their gaze toward the monastery. On the rapidly disintegrating portico stood a tall dark figure that returned the shades' stares. After a moment that seemed to last all night the figure bowed its head towards the gathering of shades, turned and walked back into the monastery an instant before the shattered torso of Merrika sealed the front door forever. With that solemn farewell the shades at the gate turned and faded into the night.
An instant later, the wind picked up, and for a moment the view of the monastery was entirely obscured by blowing snow. When they could see again, the monastery was gone, leaving only a cold pile of rubble on the mountainside.

Jon Potter

Part 22: Aftermath

"Mayhaps," Malak thought aloud."Do ye suppose..? Nahh... couldn't be."
"Spit it out, chalak !" Karak returned. The warrior's tone was perhaps gruffer than he intended; the supernatural events they had just witnessed had shaken him.
"It seemed to me a queer thing that our guide knew well o' this 'ere monastery, but knew nothing of its current state," Malak explained. "He even knew the lay o' the land like it was 'is own."
"An' what of it?" Karak asked.
"Do ye suppose that Arngrim once called this 'ere place 'ome?" Malak asked and Karak harrumphed.
"I do no' think 'e was a prior monk but that's just what I think," the warrior admitted. "All o' this seekin' after oneness an' enlightenment seems an awful 'uman thing to do, if'n ye ask me. And Arngrim seemed every bit the dwarf through an' through. I think 'e knew these ways an' knew of the monastary from 'is travels is all."
"There 'as to be a connection 'tween him an' the monastery somewhere," the cleric asserted. "Or between the Hungroths and the Ice-Wraith."
"Hmm... the whole thing seems most unnatural" Karak said. "Despite yer abilities to commune with the Gods, it's unsettlin' to see 'em directly. And it was unsettlin' to see our guide again. But truth be told, I'd been feelin' as if we 'ad abandonded 'im too easily before. But now it seems all right after destroyin' Alluzin."
"Aye," Malak agreed.
"What says you we 'ole up 'ere an' finally get ourselves some rest," the warrior went on. "We'll wait until first light and see if ye canno' find us the way. 'Tis strange tha' the storm 'as suddenly stopped as well, no?"
"Strange indeed, me chalak. But no more strange than fits with all else we've encountered 'ere." Malak spoke, nodding back toward the now crumbled monastery. The entire facade was gone, reduced to a pile of broken rubble. The only indication that a crafted structure had once existed there was the disembodied stone head of Orin that stared solemnly from its place atop the shattered remains.
"But what o' those Hungroths we dispatched of," Malak asked at last, patting the buckler on his arm "Do ye' suppose we've seen the last of 'em?"
The warrior shrugged his armored shoulders.
"Shall ye sleep now, or take first guard?" Karak asked, conveying to Malak that although he hoped they had seen the last of the Hungroths, posting a guard would still be best.
Malak nodded his agreement.
"Let's us first find a place to keep for the night. Sleep ye first an' I'll keep watch. I'll wake ye so's I can sleep 'til first light." Malak said, looking toward the sky to get some bearing on direction. He spotted Meruna, the handmaiden in the sky to his left and a pale glow behind some mountains a bit to the right of her position marked the sliver of Great Celune that remained. Her path through the heavens at this time of year was shallow and kept her hidden behind the high peaks of the Thunder Mountains. With the positions of Shaharizod's Mirrors thus fixed in his mind, he was able to trace an imginary line across the dark sky through the constellation, The Rings of Beronnar. From that he knew which direction was north and which direction would lead them southeastward into the human land of Haven.
"Come mornin' we'll 'ead off for Felsheim," the Battleguard said and placed a stick of firewood in the snow pointing southeastwards. He pointed toward the horizon in the direction the stick pointed. "Tho' I've no idea how far aways off we are, methinks it should be off that way."
"Fair enough, chalak," Karak said. "Let's shelter 'ere 'neath these cliffs an' get a fire started. Come the 'morrow, we can set off for the human lands."


This marks the end of the first (and only) completed adventure of Malak and Karak. There are three more turns chronicling their first encounters with humans and their problems, but the players decided to switch gears and roll up new characters before their further adventures really got started.

If there's an interest I can post the remaining three portions so long as everyone realizes that it ends in a most unsatisfying place.
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