Skirting the mountain range to their south, several dogsled teams raced across the bleak white landscape. Each sled held several beings wrapped in brown fur, while one man stood at the back, holding the reigns, and barking orders to the teams of dogs tethered to each sled.
One rather lithe figure, wrapped in white fur raised a gloved hand, motioning for the sled to stop. As the handler pulled back on the reigns, stopping the sled, she got up and stepped towards a large cavern. Situated at the base of one of the largest mountains of the Lugsaas Chain, Mt. Okk stretched into the cloud covering above, its peak lost from view.
Peering up at the mountain, she took off a pair of goggles she'd been wearing and blinked slowly. Her travelling companions took the brief respite to stand and stretch their legs, slowly working out the kinks they had acquired from the day's journey. The wind suddenly picked up and small bits of snow began to whip around the scattered group. The woman made her way slowly towards the mouth of the cavern.
The blowing snow and howling wind seemed to have no effect on her. A tuft of her black hair managed to escape from her fur lined hood and fell across her pale, yet beautiful features. Catching the late afternoon sun, her green eyes sparkled as she managed to tuck her hair back into place with her thick glove.
She glanced back at her companions as they stomped their feet and rubbed their arms, trying to stay warm. She noticed one of the Iulutiun handlers was pointing to her, speaking in in his native tongue. She smiled at him before turning back to face the cavern. She couldn't understand a word he'd said.
One of her entourage, a rather large brute who nearly towered over her, walked up, the snow crunching loudly with each step. Mumbling behind his thick scarf, his words muffled, she gave no indication she heard him.
Tapping her shoulder, he pointed to his face and pulling down his scarf, he revealed his yellowed tusks and protruding lower jaw. He quickly repeated himself.
"Tulu recommends you put your goggles back on before you become snow blind, Milady."
Ignoring her orc bodyguard's statement, she instead crossed her arms, smiling smugly, "This is the cavern, Hersh, this is the cavern. After all these weeks, we've finally found it."
Turning to look at the cavern, he asked, "Are you sure? There are hundreds of caverns around this area."
She nodded emphatically," I can feel it in my bones. A tingling that I can't explain."
"That may be Milady, but I'd like to remind you that we only have a few hours of daylight left. We'll need that time to build some shelters," he argued quietly.
"This is the cavern," she replied confidently, nodding her head slowly, her eyes still sparkling.
He noted the position of the sun and sighed. They would need at least four hours to build the shelters. If this wasn't the cavern, they'd not have enough time. At what point do you disobey your employer, he wondered, when their own safety was concerned?
He noticed the sparkle in her eye and realized he'd never seen that before. Speaking softly, she raised a gloved hand and pointed at the cavern. She'd never done that before, he thought. He felt a powerful force of energy suddenly surround her. He shivered, not from the cold, but from fear. He steadied himself for a moment before asking reluctantly, "Shall I send in the scouts?"
Her voice took on an edge of authority and power when she responded to his question. He'd never heard her speak like this and it startled him.
"Please do. Remind them we are here to parley, not to fight. Birgyth, Lady of the White Wastes, would not appreciate us decimating her attendants."
"Kill the Iulutiuns and corral the dogs. We'll be needing them to get off this accursed glacier. We won't be returning the way we came. Your hobgoblin warriors should be able to handle the sleds from here on out."
Offering a stiff bow, he replied, "As you wish, Lady Veleno."
Tulu worked quickly in the darkness. Unable to use his left arm, he struggled to set the harness on the dogs he'd managed to coax from the pen inside the cavern. He was thankful they were as loyal as his father had told him they were. Many of them he and his family had raised since they were pups. If not for them, he'd never make it back to his village.
He winced when he bumped his arm against the wooden grip of his sled. He was more than sure his arm was either dislocated, broken or both. The pain was unbearable, and he struggled not to cry out while adjusting the harnesses.
He thought of tying it to his torso, since it just hung there, getting in the way. He knew he should keep it immobile, but he didn't have time for such a luxury. The temperatures were plummeting, and he needed to get moving. Time was now his enemy, as much as anything else found prowling around on the glacier at night.
He'd been cutting blocks of snow for a shelter when the Hobgoblins had attacked. He'd managed to escape the ensuing massacre and had thought himself lucky, but he wasn't expecting the kobold standing guard just inside the cave. The fight was over as quickly as it had begun. The small reptilian creature wouldn't be telling anymore campfire stories. Tulu grimaced at what he'd done. He hated killing, but he had no choice, it had been either the creature or him.
During the scuffle is when he'd slipped and fallen, landing on his left arm. He berated himself for not noticing the icy patch. This was his world, his environment. He then chastised himself for feeling foolish, when he should be more concerned with surviving through the night.
Finishing with the harness, he got onto the sled. With a quick flick of the reigns and whistle from him, the dogs quickly broke into a run. Heading back the way he had come earlier that day, he only had one thought. Escape. Survival was a close second.
Lady Veleno stood in front of the large, cold, iron door. Staring at the runes inscribed upon it, she pondered the meaning of each rune. Pulling out a small folded sheet of paper, she glanced at it before looking back up at the door. She felt a presence next to her, casting a quick glance to her side, she wasn't surprised to see Hesh standing beside her.
"Have you figured it out yet?" he said in a hushed tone.
"No, not yet. I must choose carefully. This has already proven to be a very deadly puzzle trap," she said motioning to the still twitching body of one of the hobgoblins lying on the floor.
Hesh nodded solemnly.
"This is where the Vaasan wizards established their ice castle nearly 300 years ago," she motioned towards the door, "When they weren't plotting to conquer Vaasa, they would challenge each other with puzzles, riddles and all manner of games. It's what many believe may have contributed to their downfall."
"I thought they were evil?" the Orc questioned.
"They were. They seemed to play for keeps," she said, motioning again to the dead hobgoblin.
The Orc mercenary squinted at the runes.
"Are you sure each rune represents a letter of the Draconic alphabet?" he asked.
"Yes. Look at the filigree on the edges of the door. It depicts all manner of dragons. I'm sure this puzzle was one of Pergatoki the Sorcerer's. It was thought the blood of dragons ran through his veins. I've read that he preferred the tongue of Dragons over the tongue of Man."
The Orc nodded, standing quiet for a few minutes before finally clearing his throat.
"Why don't we ask one of Birgyth's whelps? Maybe they know something?"
"No," she said shaking her head, "those two wouldn't know anything. Birgyth is too stupid to comprehend things of this nature. She doesn't have it in her to solve complex riddles or puzzles, otherwise, she would've already solved it. No, I've got to solve this before she returns."
"I agree. Once she realizes the escaping Iulutiun doesn't have her missing Ioun Stone," he said patting a small pouch on his belt, "she'll realize we tricked her. She'll be furious. There's not enough of us to take her down if it comes to a fight."
"I realize that. Keep the stone safe. I should have this solved in a few minutes."
"Understood, Milady," he said, bowing.
A few moments later, with her eyes glowing, she suddenly lunged forward and pressed one of the runes. With a loud creak and groan, the door slowly slid open. Within the small chamber floated two weapons, bathed in a bright blue light. The walls of the chamber were solid ice, bright blue in color. A blast of cold air assaulted the duo as they stood there.
Lady Veleno smiled triumphantly while the Orc mercenary stared in wide-eyed wonder.
"You did it," he breathed softly.
"I sure did," she replied smugly.
"What now?" he asked quietly.
"Get in there and use the pick. I need a full barrel of the pure blue ice. Be quick about yourself."
"What about the weaponry?" he asked distractedly.
"Don't touch them. I'm not sure if the curse the runes spoke about deal with just the door or if it involves the weapons too."
"Better safe than sorry, I suppose," mumbled the Orc.
Turning from the chamber, Lady Veleno began to bark orders to the gathered pack of hobgoblins.
"Get the sleds ready. We're leaving."