Ezra Clay, Kithkanen Wraithwind, Renli the dwarf, Morgren, and guild regulator made their way into the mountains, in search of answers. Reaching the Gates by nightfall on the first day, nothing seemed out of the ordinary until dark, when Kit noticed a distinct lack of wildlife signs north of the entry to the pass – the first two switchbacks were silent, seemingly devoid of life.
By just after mid-day on their second day away from town they’d made it almost to the apex of the pass, and were then stopped by the remains of a landslide that had blocked the pass, at least a week or so ago. The higher they went into the mountains the quieter it became, and the colder, with a few inches of partially frozen snow covering the ground and some ice on the few remaining trees. This portion of the pass was almost empty of trees, being above the timber line, and only alpine scrub and other small plants were scattered here and there. The cliffs and steep hills to their sides loomed overhead, making for perfect ambush sites or sources of rockslides.
Renli and the other guy stayed on the south side of the blocked road while the other three led their horses over the heap of rock, dirt, and snow, and headed higher into the mountains. No more than 30 minutes Kit came upon five large cargo wagons, sitting aside the road. Going into high alert, the three men crept up to the lifeless caravan and found evidence of a fight, at least a week in the past. No dead bodies, aside from one horse, with a large arrow piercing it’s heart, and no easily-portable cargo, either. Blood stains were here and there, but nothing so large as to suggest that someone died and bled out in or near one of the wagons. Depressions on the ground around the wagons – on both sides – suggested a party of bipeds did approach and surround them, but several days of light snowfall plus nightly freezes prevented any positive identification beyond that they were bipedal, and large man-sized, or maybe larger.
Aside from a bloodstain here or there, the other only evidence of a fight were some cuts in the wagons themselves and the single, dead horse, which had also been rudely butchered with claw and fang, leaving large, rough chunks of meat stripped from its left side.
While exploring the hills around the road, Morgren discovered a frozen brook running parallel to the pass, and obscured by a smooth, low ridge – making for a perfect means by which to shadow travelers and launch an ambush. While poking around there looking for any clues, he heard a voice – a muffled cry of the injured. Kit and Ezra quickly came to help investigate, while Morgren headed up the hillside to get a better view of things, and the cries continued, down the hill to their northwest. “Help…help me…” was heard, in strained Common. Watching, waiting, trying to find out the source – was it a threat or someone in need of help?
In the span of mere seconds, Kit could hear Ezra mumbling and pointing, and suddenly Kit heard those same mumblings, albeit louder, in succession at two points far in front of them, as if the other half-elf had thrown his voice. A reddish glow seemed to pour over and from his left hand as he spoke and pointed. Before Kit could process and respond to this all of them heard rustling to their front.
Morgren, from his high perch on the hillside, was the first to see the shadowy figure moving at high speed up the road, toward their horses, then tied at the lost caravan. Loosing an arrow at the thing – man-sized but hard to see in the deep shadows cast by the mountains to the west – he missed, but shouted and began running down the hillside, alerting the others. Kit reacted next, bounding over the ridge back toward the pass trail and firing his own arrow before dropping his bow and drawing his rapier as he closed with the thing. His shot landed true, piercing the left side of its chest and staggering it some.
The thing looked to have once been a man, but it was clearly dead, with grey-black skin, freakishly extended fingers and claws, and an elongated jaw filled with jagged, filthy teeth. Its stringy, matted hair was not very long, but wild and had dirt clumped in it. Its clothes were those of a traveler, but torn, rotted, and stained with age and exposure to the elements. What it was, no one knew.
The creature closed with Kit, moving at unnatural speed, and closely missed with its claws. Within melee range, Kit could smell the stench of death and frozen rot, and could see that it was not breathing – or, at best, that its body did nothing to warm any air it did take in. Ezra sprinted around to the thing’s side, shouting some guttural speech and gesticulating with one hand while drawing his dagger with the other. Once close enough to stab, Ezra instead continued his garbled mutterings and from his left hand shot a black-purple blast of darkness, slamming into the creature and knocking it a few feet to one side.
Kit, having dropped into the mindset of Hugh’s training, continued his attack, swinging at the thing with a rapier in each hand, striking home once with a deep cut to its abdomen. The thing’s rotten guts poured forth from the gaping cut, and it staggered to once side and dropped to the ground, seemingly defeated. The pounding of footsteps on the rocks and snow rose above their pounding hearts and heaving breathes – Morgren had reached them.
Just as Kit was above to slice the head off the thing, they all saw the spread of ice over it – as if it was growing a shell of dense ice. Kit dropped a large rock on its head, and the ice deflected it. Morgren placed his short sword on its neck and Kit gave the pommel a good whack with another rock to add weight, and the block only knocked a chunk off the growing shell. The two looked at each other, both trying to figure out a way to stop whatever was happening, and Ezra acted again, mumbling more guttural syllables and blasting it again with a ball of black-purple force, then turning to clean his mouth out with snow as the others took the opportunity of the cracked ice to behead the otherwise inert body. The ice, however, began to form again.
Not until they decided to light a fire using their tinder did they destroy it, with the fire melting the ice slightly, then quickly consuming the head and body once it reached the flesh. What is was, none could say, although it was very dead long before it had attacked them.
Standing in the waining light of their second day on road the three men were still feeling the heightened senses, and mental and physical power brought on by the adrenaline of the fight, and as it also started to wane, an unsettling set of questions came to the minds of both Kit and Morgren. Ezra had displayed powers of a rare, powerful, and troubling sort, and answers were needed…
“You’ve got some explaining to do, Ezra,” Morgren started, his hand moving reflexively and slightly back toward his sword’s hilt. Kit, without realizing it, had already stepped back and to one side, opening routes of movement around Ezra, as if he were already a foe – Hugh’s training had been relentless, meant to drill into his pupil reactions that could not be considered in advance, or the benefit of time would be lost.
The silence of the mountains surrounded them as dusk quickly turned darker: three men facing each other, or perhaps facing off against each other.