The thick, gray clouds enshrouded much of the northern
Side of the mountains. A chill wind cut deep into the flesh
Of every man in the party save the slim cowled figure in
The thin, black travel cloak guiding the party. At this level,
There were even traces of snow and, especially, frost. The
Frost was very prevalent, giving the forest of firs through
Which they stalked a deathlike sheen.
Two paces behind their guide, Lord Aldric Jitan drew
His own thickly furred cloak tighter. From under the hood
Of the rich brown and white garment, the red-haired
Noble’s narrow eyes – one deep brown and the other iceblue –
Darted back and forth along the landscape, seeking.
His square jaw clenched in impatience.
“How much farther, sorcerer?” he muttered, his words
Accompanied by dense white clouds.
“Not much farther at all, my lord,” the black-clad figure
Calmly replied. Unlike the noble and the five burly menat-
Arms, he strode along the uneven path as if on a pleasant
Afternoon hike. His voice was surprisingly deep for so
Thin and studious-sounding a figure, even deeper than
Lord Jitan’s. He glanced back at the broad-shouldered
Aristocrat – a man built much like the fighters who served
Him – revealing glimpses of a head with short-cropped
Gray hair and an angular face with matching eyes so narrow
They made Aldric’s seem round. The skin had a
Darker, slightly yellowish cast to it, almost as if the
Speaker suffered jaundice. “In fact, I daresay, the first hints
Will soon manifest themselves.”
“I sense nothing.”
2 Richard A. Knaak
“Your skills are not honed as mine are, my lord, but that
Shall be remedied soon enough, yes?”
Aldric grunted. “That’s the point of
all of this, isn’t it,
The lead figure turned his gaze forward, leaving the
Noble only the back of his black hood at which to gaze.
“Yes, my lord.”
They fell to silence again. Behind Aldric, the five servants
Struggled under heavy packs. In addition to foodstuffs
And blankets, they carried pickaxes, huge hammers,
And shovels. Each man also wore a sword at his side. As
Desolate as this forest seemed, there were dangers, especially
From wendigos. The huge beastmen were rare to
Find – not that most were so foolish as to go hunting for
Them – but when encountered had to be slain quickly.
Wendigos thrived on meat, including human flesh. Legend
Said that they had not always been so monstrous, but no
One in the Western Kingdoms cared about such legends. It
Was the blood-soaked facts that mattered. The only good
Wendigo was a dead one.
After all, as Lord Aldric Jitan could attest, the dead ones
At least made for fine, warm cloaks like the one he wore.
Several more minutes passed and still the noble sensed
Nothing. He probed for some distance ahead and only
Noted the continual emptiness of the mountainous land.
Even for this part of southeastern Westmarch, the region
Was desolate. Not at all like the lowlands, where the lush,
Rich soil and pleasant rainfall made this part of the Western
Kingdoms the envy of all other regions of the world. Even
The thick fir forest through which they trudged felt sterile,
More a ghost than a living thing.
Lord Jitan grunted. And this had once been the heart of
Ancient Westmarch? This had once been where the vast,
Dominating estates of the Sons of Rakkis had loomed over
The first, burgeoning kingdoms of the land? The moldering
Parchments and crumbling stone slabs through which
Aldric had for months pored had spoken of a much