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Episode 3 1/2: A terrible discovery

This is in response to a story written by my dear friend/GL Mysthowl, who has been so patiently waiting for me to get off my lazy butt (sorry, Myst!). Please read all the episodes he’s done before delving into mine!

Today, it was in Niqora’s favor that Icecrown’s landscape boasted charcoal-gray bedrock and had more pits and craters than one could count. The weather had taken a turn for the worst in only an hour, the already cloud-choked skies darkening and whipping the snow into a frenzied blizzard. The Scourge that plagued the area did not feel the wind’s sting, but even a hardy Shu’halo could not stand it forever. As soon as she noticed that the air around her was turning white, she snatched a length of tanned leather from her bags, tossing one end to her companion Blacky while gripping the other. Blacky’s white fangs caught the strap smartly and, trotting closely together, they began to make their way towards the closest cliff.

Never releasing the strap or slowing her pace, the huntress awkwardly drew more slated-coloured rhino furs out of her packs and wrapped them around her head, arms, and torso. Her legs would have to wait until she could stop moving, hopefully somewhere out of the wind that howled around her.

The storm increased its ferocity, leaving the hunter’s hands numb and her vision nothing but a sheet of white. Guided only by Blacky’s more acute senses of smell and hearing, the pair blundered into snow drifts, snow weaseling its way into Niqora’s fur-lined armor and melting cold against her skin. Sometimes a moan of something not quite living would reach their ears, and the Shu’halo could do nothing more than toss down a slowing trap behind her and hope that whatever it was didn’t notice two black figures through the veil of snow.

She wondered how anyone could see anything in this weather after she almost ran headlong into a snow-covered boulder. A great wall of darkness loomed before them, which she hoped was the cliff they had been heading for. Floundering through the waist-high drifts that had built up against the rocks, Blacky guided them towards a shallow cave carved naturally into the stone.

Wind still tossed and swirled crystals of ice into the air but it was still less vicious in here than out there. Niqora drew more furs and blankets out of her packs, stealing glances at the storm that showed no sign of lessening.

Her dark brow furrowed as she settled on the floor beside Blacky, tucking the blankets around them both. “He will be worried,” she stated, her voice cracking from the dry air and echoing off the rocks more loudly than she had suspected. She fell silent again, and to anyone or anything that happened to tromp by within seeing distance, the two black-furred figures were merely another pile of rubble.

The blizzard seemed to rage on forever but the pair were relatively warm hidden underneath their layers of pelts. The snow built up in banks around them, which only helped to provide insulation from the wicked wind. A few times, Niqora almost dozed off from weariness, jerking awake again from the deep concern that she would never wake up again, and perhaps never be found by her beloved mate. She would then wipe away the crystals that had built up around her muzzle from her breath and tuck her hands back under the furs.

It must have been somewhere deep into the night when the gail lessened and the ice crystals were no longer falling from the sky but being blown around from drift to drift. The Shu’halo heaved the housing of pelts and snow away from their bodies, Blacky slowly raising to her feet and vigorously shaking the snow from her fur. The hunter was shaking out the furs and rolling them up again when she heard a raspy moan echo off the walls of the cave. No sooner had she snatched up her crossbow did a ghoul charge full speed through the opening, beady black eyes fixed on Niqora as its target. An arrow hissed through the air and embedded itself in the creature’s chest as Blacky quickly followed, seizing the undead’s arm in mid air and spinning them around. With a snarl, the wolf yanked hard on the arm, throwing the ghoul off balance as Niqora buried another arrow in its skull. Dashing forward with long strides, she raised her halberd high over her head and neatly removed the foe’s head from its body with a whistling thunk. Triumphantly her companion picked up the head by what little scraggly hair it had and strutted around the limp body.

The hunter smirked at her wolf as she wiped the blade off in the snow. “Enough,” she said softly, “we need to get moving.” Blacky grumbled deep in her chest and lay the head back down beside the body. The two hastily piled snow over it to conceal their kill, hopefully for long enough not to draw any more attention from the Scourge. They then began to jog at a steady pace back across the snowy flats, all the while Niqora praying to the Earth Mother that her beloved had been spared from the storm by the little valley they had camped in.

Her netherdrake Nelarus had had enough sense to take shelter from the storm as well, Niqora was pleased to note as she approached where the female drake had been perched. Ignoring Nelarus’s bewildered expression at having never endured such a blizzard before, the hunter expertly ran her hands over the great dragon, ensuring that she had not been frost-bitten or otherwise harmed. She vaulted onto the netherdrake’s back, coaxing the ever-reluctant Blacky to leap up into her lap. The poor wolf whined shrilly as Nelarus lunged skyward.

“No…” Niqora breathed as they quickly approached the camp and she could see the tent flap waving wildly in the wind with no fire lighting the surrounding snow. Nelarus’s claws had barely grazed the ground before both hunter and pet sprung off the saddle, hitting the ground running towards the tent. As she savagely yanked back the flap and saw the state of Mysthowl inside, Niqora could only cry out wordlessly and sink to her knees beside him.