Many Hidden Rooms – Cerah of Quadar #2

Excerpt From Many Hidden Rooms

Chapter 1

MHR2018aThe sky on the icy continent known only as the Frozen South was dismal. There was a perpetual cadaver-gray cloud cover, but it hardly mattered. There was rarely any sun in the sky for it to obscure. Due to the axial tilt of the planet Quadar and the location of the frigid landmass at the southern pole, the star Vellus rose only slightly above the horizon, and it stayed there for no more than two hours a day. Three in the summer months, when temperatures soared to thirty below zero.

Yet for all its doleful nature, Yarren Slipwind, wizard of Melsa, had to squint against the brutal whiteness of it all. As far as he looked in any direction there was naught but ice. Most of the Frozen South was a vast flatland. Not that Yarren had explored that much of the icebound desert.

Nearly two months before Yarren had been part of a vast company, led by Cerah Jacasta, the Chosen One of the creator god Ma’uzzi. Her coming had been prophesied by the wizards an uncountable number of years before. She had been promised as the conqueror of an entity referred to in the ancient runes of the sorcerers as the Anger of Pilka. Pilka, the daughter and sister of Ma’uzzi, had in bitter opposure to the beauty of Ma’uzzi’s beloved Quadar, created a race of foul creatures whose only purpose was to rail against the verdant lands and cherished life that Ma’uzzi had spoken into being. And to lead this infernal infantry, she had created the giant demon Surok. It was to this embodiment of evil that the carvings which adorned the walls of the Hall of History in the cave Onesperus, sacred to the wizards, had referred.

Surok, who dwelt atop the highest mountain on all Quadar, had rallied Pilka’s ignoble hoard, the misshapen but monstrously strong karvats, and had himself brought into being a race far more wicked and immeasurably more dangerous, the Silestra. For countless millennia Surok had remained in his Ice Cavern, his corporeal body not yet fully formed. Though standing nearly fifty feet tall, Surok could not, in his wraith-like form, move across the planet to bring to bear the havoc he desired. So he called to him weak-willed humans, easily seduced and willing to carry out his bloodlust. And over the many centuries Quadar knew war.

Yarren, sitting atop Valosa, the great green dragon with whom he’d been matched as a teen, had ridden for the fifteenth time into the foothills of the great peak in which Surok had plotted against the Green Lands of Quadar. The craggy eminence was visible in the distance. Cerah had named it Mount Opatta, a name the held much meaning for the wizards. Opatta was an elder of the wizard race, and had, ten centuries before, led the first armada to the Frozen South, which until the day of their arrival had never been seen by wizards or Free People. He and his young student, Parnasus, along with a host of other wizards and human warriors from the Green Lands, had climbed the mountain, and found the lair of Surok, who Opatta recognized at once as the source of the constant strife on the ten continents and as the evil creature cited in the ancient runes. Casting a spell of binding, Opatta had encased the demon in an impenetrable blue crystal. Although he could not move, Surok matched his magic with the elder’s and in the mingling of their conjurations a great blast of energy filled the cavern, killing many of Surok’s own creatures. It also drew the life force from Opatta, who fell. With his dying words, he told Parnasus that the binding spell would not hold Surok indefinitely. It would erode and the beast would one day be free. But he reminded his protégé of the prophecy of the Chosen One, and charged him with the task of being ever alert for her arrival.

Parnasus, now over one thousand years of age and First Elder of the wizard race, had recognized Cerah as the one spoken of in the ancient revelation, both through her actions as described by his student, Kern, who had lived on the continent of Ilyria for two hundred years, posing as a healer, and by the mark that she bore on her forehead: a teardrop shaped scar, ochre in color, caused by a near fatal encounter with a fearsome durra, a huge black wildcat.

And so Cerah had been trained as a wizard, something that should have been impossible, given her birth to human parents. But it was later revealed that Cerah had descended from the great wizard Therrien, who had married a human woman. Though upon the great wizard’s passing the succeeding generations of his descendants came to think of themselves as wholly human, a trace of Therrien’s spark, as the wizards called the essence of life given to all Ma’uzzi’s creations, passed latent through his bloodline for many years until it found an awakening in Jul, Cerah’s mother. Although Jul did not fully recognize the reemergence of her ancestral gift, she none the less passed to one of her ten children: Cerah.

Yarren thought about all of this, and about how Cerah, gradually rising to the full stature of her long-awaited calling as the Chosen One, had led a second armada, far greater than that which had carried Opatta, with the intention of destroying the army of Surok, and indeed the beast himself, before the last vestiges of the great wizard’s binding spell had wasted away. That plan, alas, did not come to fruition. After weeks at sea and even more time marching over the wastes of the Frozen South, finally climbing the treacherous crags of Mount Opatta, Cerah and her warriors arrived to find the Ice Cavern empty. Surok, now free and fully formed into a physical being, had fled and begun his conquest of Quadar.

Although Cerah had led most of the army and her retinue of wizard dragon-riders after the evil company, her husband, Slurr Jacasta, general of the army, had remained behind on the ice plains with a fraction of his men, in order to make room on the ships for the human captives of Surok who had been left to die in the great lair of the beast. Of the nearly five hundred thousand that had been magically enslaved by Surok, only ten thousand had been found alive when Cerah had arrived.

While waiting for the ships to return for his men, Slurr had organized hunting parties to kill a brace of the ferocious snow beasts, first encountered at the base of Mount Opatta prior to the commencement of their ill-fated climb. He had taken a thousand men and five wizards to the same foothills through which Yarren and Valosa now passed. All the parties had met with great success, and had dragged many of the white-furred creatures out of the hills, meeting on the plain to the north, in the direction of the coast, where the bulk of the warriors waited. All, that is, except the one led by Yarren himself.

Yarren’s party had hunted in the western-most of the hills, and had indeed killed six snow beasts. But as he prepared to lead his unit back to the meeting place, they had been caught in a horrific blizzard. Bad weather rarely occurred anywhere on that region of the icy continent, save for on the mountain itself, which was so tall that it created its own storm fronts. Much to Yarren’s dismay, the foothills were also, though infrequently, buffeted by tempestuous squalls. So strong and crippling was the blizzard that Yarren ordered his men to abandon their game to make travel less difficult. After several days he was able to lead the men to safety, marching them far from the mustering zone.

But during the time they were wandering, General Slurr had gone alone into the storm to find them. Yarren was not aware of this until he had marched his party all the way back to the coast. Upon rejoining the men and wizards waiting for the ships to return, he learned of Slurr’s act of selfless heroism. He immediately organized a search party, consisting of wizards and their match-mates. Although it was very difficult for the dragons to fly in the frigid air of the Frozen South, that is exactly what he asked them to do. For several days they blanketed the hills in which Yarren and his party had hunted, but no trace of the general had been found.

Finally, the ships had returned. With great sadness, Yarren had reported the general’s fate to Admiral Renton, who Slurr had appointed to command the armada. As the last of the men were loaded onto the sailing ships, Yarren informed Renton that he and Valosa would remain behind. He vowed that he would find Slurr, alive or dead, and return him to Cerah.

Now, as he strained his eyes to peer across the constant whiteness, his determination to fulfill that vow had not faltered, but his hope of finding the general alive had. The ships had departed eight days before, and Yarren had returned to the hills at once. For eight days, he and Valosa had walked the rolling terrain looking for any trace of his friend. When they weren’t searching on foot, Valosa gamely flew them above the rise, ever scanning with his keen eyes. But they had seen no indication that Slurr had survived the storm, or the interminable days of crushing cold since the blizzard had finally abated.

Yarren held little hope of seeing any tracks from Slurr’s brave march. The newly fallen snow was deep, upwards of three feet in places, and the whipping winds had further obscured any trace of the young general’s passing. Neither had he seen any snow beasts, this to his satisfaction. Bringing one of the enormous animals down with a party of two hundred spear carriers was a challenge, so savage were they.  To face one with only his dragon’s claws and the magic of his staff was an encounter he hoped to avoid.

He had dropped down from Valosa’s back and slogged alongside the mighty dragon through the drifts, which in this part of the hills rose to his waistline.

“Val, my soul aches,” he said to his match-mate. The dragon chirped sadly in response, and lowered his head to nuzzle against Yarren. The wizard smiled weakly and patted Valosa’s neck, appreciative of the gesture of compassion. “I do not know where else to look. We have trudged over every inch of these hills and have seen nothing that would indicate Slurr was here, not even one of his curly blonde hairs!”

As he spoke the dragon suddenly lifted his head. Yarren turned to look at Valosa and saw that he was sniffing the air.

“What is it, Val? Do you smell something? Is it Slurr?” The dragon did not acknowledge Yarren’s queries, instead trudging forward. He approached a drift, lowering his snout to the snow. He continued to sniff for a moment, then began poking his face into the bank. Twice, three times, a fourth he plunged into the freezing pile. The last time he came out, he seemed perplexed. Clearly he had picked up some sort of scent. The dragon was unable to indicate what he was smelling. Only Cerah’s golden queen dragon Tressida could communicate with her match-mate. In the long history of wizard and dragon matching they were the first pair to be able to speak telepathically to one another. Yarren wished now that Valosa had that ability, as he didn’t know if it was Slurr or a snow beast that Valosa was tracking.

Valosa plunged into the drift again, and this time when he did, Yarren saw a minute patch of green exposed by the dragon’s burrowing. He ran, such as he could, through the deep snow and reached for the anomalous shred of color. Nothing in this land was green. What could it be? He grabbed at it and pulled. To his amazement, he held a shapeless green felt hat.

“It’s Slurr’s!” he shouted. “It’s his ridiculous green hat that Cerah kept telling him to throw away! Val, he may be near! Let’s keep looking!”

Four days prior, Slurr had awoken to a scene of unimaginable horror. He was in a small grotto. It didn’t appear to be a naturally occurring depression, rather looking as though it had been carved, somehow,  into a large mound of snow and ice. Around him, piled haphazardly in the cramped space, lay dozens of human corpses. Indeed, several bodies were heaped on top of him, such that his legs and lower torso were trapped beneath them.

His head hurt very badly. He reached up and touched it. When he pulled his hand away, he saw a smear of dark blood. Apparently he had suffered an injury, but the wound had begun to heal. The blood was not fresh. He tried to remember what had happened, to gain some insight into how he found himself in this predicament.

He recalled hiking into the storm that blanketed the western hills, looking for a trace of Yarren’s hunting party. Of the five sets of hills in which his men had hunted, the westernmost were the largest. He had covered a great deal of terrain without seeing any indications that they had been this way. Slurr knew that Yarren was a gifted wizard and would do everything in his power to get his men to safety. But the storm was outrageous, and even a strong wizard and his dragon could be overcome in such conditions. Not to mention the human warriors, who were even less hardy and far more susceptible to the foul weather.

After several days, during which the gale force winds never slackened, Slurr had come across a suspicious looking mound in the snow. The sight of it made his heart pound. It was at the base of a rather steep area, which rose about fifteen feet high, and curled back over the mound at the top of the rise. Slurr plunged his bare hands into the knoll, fearful of what, or who, he might find buried there. His luck had been bad thus far during the search, and it did not get better now. For as he plowed through the snow a large chunk of ice on the overhang above him became dislodged by the wind. It fell and struck Slurr hard on the head, just as he realized there was nothing buried in the snow. That was the last thing he remembered.

Now he was here, among the dead. He did not immediately recognize any of the frozen faces, but he knew who they were. During the march across the ice to Mount Opatta, and indeed during the climb, many warriors fell, succumbing to the bitter cold coupled, in many cases, with constitutions which had already been compromised during the cramped sea voyage. These bodies were some of the lost men and women. It didn’t take Slurr long to realize how they came to be stacked here, and indeed what manner of place this was. The bodies had been collected by a snow beast, and this was its den.

When the chunk of ice had knocked Slurr unconscious, one of the fearsome creatures must have come across his lifeless body and assumed he was another casualty. Slurr could only assume the monster was filling its stores with food.

There was no telling how long it would be before the great white beast returned. Getting out before it did was the obvious course of action, but as Slurr began to try to free himself he quickly realized that a hasty departure was not likely. He did not know how long he’d been inside the grotto, but it must have been some time. He was very weak, and as his sore head further cleared he realized he was both very hungry and as thirsty as he’d ever been in his life. What I wouldn’t give for Tressida to be here right now. A little breath of fire and I could have something to drink. There’s certainly enough ice around, but nothing to melt it! he thought. But Cerah’s fire-breathing queen was not here. He’d have to find another solution.

He looked again at the macabre sight of the bodies that were piled on top of him, covering his lower-half. In his diminished condition, he found that moving them off was very difficult. As near as he could tell, he was beneath four of his fallen comrades. Unfortunately, the top most body was that of a rather heavyset man. It took Slurr a full ten minutes to push and shift him so the warrior’s weight was no longer bearing down on him. With a final shove, the body rolled off the pile and lay alone on the ground.

The next corpse, much to Slurr’s dismay, was that of a young boy. Free People of all ages had joined the Army of Quadar, eager to stop the evil being whose magic had been wiping out entire cities and kidnapping all of their residents. Very few were turned away, though Slurr insisted that the youngest warriors could be no less than fourteen. This poor lad could have been no more than that. Slurr had a much easier time moving him, but his heart ached as he did so.

After moving the first two bodies, Slurr rested. The effort of freeing himself was insanely taxing, so feeble was his condition. He was aware that every minute he spent in this hollow decreased his chances of getting away before the snow beast returned, but he was simply unable to continue. The final two cadavers were on his legs. He tried kicking, but their weight was too great to allow him to do so. As he gave a push to the warrior on top, he became aware that the two corpses appeared to be frozen together, further complicating matters. He’d had everything he could do to get the first two off him, moving them one at a time. How would he ever propel two at once?

As he was pondering this, Slurr heard a noise outside the opening of the grotto. He knew that if this was the snow beast returning he, there was no possibility of fighting his way out. It took, on average, ten to twenty men working together to bring one of the huge creatures down, though he’d sent them in much larger parties, so that no one had to face the beast for long. He was still trapped beneath two bodies, and was weakened almost to the point of paralysis. As he quickly weighed all of his options, Slurr realized his best chance was to play dead, and hope that the beast, if it was hungry, didn’t select him for his meal.

Turning his head toward the entrance he closed his eyes, leaving one opened ever so slightly so that he could see what manner of creature was coming. A moment later his fears were realized as a snow beast, a big as any he had seen since landing on this forsaken place, poked its head inside the grotto. It looked around, then stepped inside. The beast had to crouch to fit as it moved toward the pile of dead humans in which Slurr was trapped.

Through his barely open eyelids, Slurr saw the beast look at the body that he had been able to roll off of himself. The frozen carcass lay alone on the floor beside the heap. The beast moved its head near the body and sniffed it. Apparently satisfied that it was indeed dead, the monster kicked it closer to the pile. It then reached its muscular arm out of the grotto’s opening and pulled yet another dead warrior inside. It lifted the corpse with one hand, as though it were a ragdoll, and tossed it atop the pile. In perhaps the first trickle of good luck Slurr had since walking into the storm, it did not land on top of him, but settled to his left.

Its work done, the beast sat for a moment on its haunches. Slurr still watched it, continuing to lie motionless, no more than three feet from the horrid creature. As he peered at it, the snow beast reached down to the large fellow that Slurr had dislodged from himself, and in a single, violent motion, tore off the man’s arm. As he looked on in horror, Slurr saw the beast take a large bite from the frozen appendage, its jagged teeth tearing through both flesh and bone. The crunching sound as it chewed made Slurr’s stomach flip in revulsion. Had it not been empty, Slurr was sure he would have vomited. Even still, he had to put down the urge to wretch as the monster took a second bite.

This went on for about five minutes, although to Slurr it seemed like a lifetime. Finally, the beast popped the last bit into its cruel mouth. After swallowing, it let out a vulgar belch. Slurr again had to put down the urge to gag.

At last the monster stood. It looked once more at its supply of food. Apparently satisfied, it turned and, lowering its towering head, stepped outside.

Slurr waited for fifteen minutes or so, making sure that the creature did not return, then began frantically trying to free himself. The only positive thing about the return of the snow beast was that it had afforded him a protracted rest. Now, feeling minutely revived, he redoubled his efforts. The two warriors that were stuck together were of average build, but the fact that he had to move both as a single unit made the task extremely difficult. He pushed against them with all his might, but could do no more than rock them slightly.

Slurr stopped trying to move the bodies, and felt a wave of resignation and defeat wash over him. After all I’ve been through, am I to die here of thirst and starvation because I am too weak to wriggle out of this pile of death? Or worse, be eaten alive by the snow beast should it discover that I still have a pulse? How much more appetizing will I be than the frozen meals it’s been consuming! Slurr pounded his fist against himself in frustration, and when he did he realized that Gorshinda, the sword forged for him by the Riddue craftsman Zayan, was still at his side. With considerable effort, he drew it from its sheath.

Slurr’s first notion was to hack at the bodies that held him in place, but he decided that hitting the sword against the rock-hard corpses was not the best plan. Gorrium is a remarkable metal, he thought. It is incredibly lightweight, but stronger than any steel. Perhaps, just perhaps… Carefully he wedged the sword under the lower of the two bodies, and attempted to use it as a lever. Working with every trace of strength that remained, he began to feel the corpses move. As he strained even more, he let out a loud groan of effort.

Immediately he regretted it, for outside the grotto he again heard movement. His noises of exertion had caught the ear of the snow beast, and now it was returning. It would kill him effortlessly. Just as it seemed he might free himself, he had instead triggered his doom! He set the sword down and lay motionless in a last ditch effort to remain undetected, though he knew it was in vain. He saw a shadow pass over the opening to the grotto.

Just as the last trace of hope left him, Slurr was shocked to see not the snow beast, but Yarren poke his head through the door.

“Ahh! Great Ma’uzzi! Yarren it’s you!” he cried out.

The wizard, seeing the pile of bodies, did not immediately notice Slurr, and was badly shaken by a voice calling his name from amid the dead. He jumped in fright, lifting his staff to send a bolt of fire in the direction of whatever manner of specter was speaking. But then his eyes adjusted better to the dim light of the grotto, and he saw two arms waving frantically at him.

“General? Is it you?”

“You’ve found me! I thought I was lost for sure. Hurry. I’m trapped beneath some of our fallen warriors. I’m so weak that I can’t move them.”

Yarren rushed to where Slurr lay and began tugging at the bodies as Slurr once again wedged his sword beneath them and pried at them. After a moment’s struggle the young man was free.

As the wizard helped him rise, Slurr stood on his unsteady legs, then grabbed Yarren in a grateful embrace. “Yarren, in my life I have not experienced a great deal of friendship. Only Kern has treated me with kindness. I have liked you from the day we met, but from this day forward I shall consider you among my closest friends. You have saved my life, and I will never forget it!”

“Had I returned to the Chosen One without you, although she may have had the grace to forgive me, I know that for the rest of my life I would have never forgiven myself. You marched back into that blizzard to look for me and my party, and that friend Slurr, was the most heroic thing I have ever known. But enough of this mutual admiration. Let’s get you up on Valosa’s back, so that we might get off this frozen pile of dung!”

“Please, before we move, do you have any water? I am near death from thirst,” Slurr said.

Yarren smiled. “I can do better than that.” He held out a drinking skin. Unscrewing the top he said, “Renton left me with a flask of Rethmiran brandy, to keep my insides warm while I searched for you. There are several swallows left!” He handed the skin to Slurr, and steadied the general’s hands as he raised it to his mouth. The dark purple liquid trickled down his parched throat, leaving a trail of warmth as it did. It tasted as good as anything he remembered consuming, and as it hit his stomach, he felt the heat radiate through his body.

Yarren looked at his friend and saw that his face was gaunt and ashen. Many days without food, crammed into this freezing grotto had brought him to the door of the Next Plane, but all was well now. Slurr took another drink, then handed the skin back to the wizard. “I think I can move now,” he said. “Hand me my sword, and let’s go!” Yarren picked Gorshinda from among the frozen bodies and handed it to the general. Slurr returned it to its scabbard.

With Yarren’s arm around him for support, Slurr took a precarious step toward the opening. “How long have you been searching for me?” he asked as he and the wizard stepped out of the small cavern into the dim light of the afternoon sky.

“All of the wizards scoured these hills for six days. Then the ships returned. I sent the others back with Renton. Valosa and I remained behind, and we have been hunting for you for a fortnight, plus one day. I have to say, Slurr, it is a miracle that you survived. From the looks of you, I’d guess you haven’t eaten since you returned to look for my hunting party. You might be able to survive that, but to have gone that long without water…you should have perished.”

“A miracle. Yes, that an apt description. I don’t know how many days I lay unconscious in the beast’s hold, but during that time of darkness I remember seeing Cerah’s face in my delirium. I wonder if she was projecting her image to me from afar, just to keep me alive.”

Yarren considered this. “The powers of the Chosen One go beyond anything I’ve experienced in all of my years on Melsa. If it were possible for you to be sustained in such a manner, I believe her capable of such magic.”

“I’m beginning to believe she is capable of just about anything,” Slurr said, smiling weakly. “I cannot wait to be with her again.”

As the two men approached the green dragon, Valosa let out a trumpet of joy at seeing Slurr alive. “Yes, Val,” said Yarren, “we’ve found him! Now come, let’s leave this horrid place behind.” Yarren instructed Valosa to lay as flat on the ground as he could, so that the depleted general could climb upon his back.

At that moment, the air was torn by a mighty roar. Slurr and Yarren snapped their heads around to see that the snow beast had returned with yet another body. Upon seeing the two of them and the dragon, it tossed the corpse aside and made for them at top speed.

“Not what I was hoping for,” said the weary Slurr, pulling out his sword with one hand while unsheathing the magic dagger, called Kuldeen by the wizards who had given it to him, with the other.

“Nor I,” said Yarren, raising his staff as the monster approached. As the beast approached Yarren, he managed to send a bolt of magic blue flame in its direction. Although they’d been taken by surprise and he was off balance, the talented wizard managed to hit the creature’s right arm with the blast. It screamed in pain and took a swipe at him. Yarren was able to sidestep the beast’s claws, and he rolled away before the monster could swing at him again.

Rather than going after the wizard, the snow beast turned its attention to Slurr, who stood shakily, holding his weapons at the ready. As the monster drew near, Slurr slashed with his sword. Even in his dreadful condition, Slurr’s warrior skills did not desert him completely. His blade cut deeply into the beast’s badly burned arm. Again the monster howled in agony. Reflexively swinging its good arm, the great white creature backhanded Slurr, sending him toppling to the ground. As it prepared to pounce upon the fallen lad, it caught a green flash out of the corner of its eye. The snow beast turned its head just in time to see a snarling Valosa lunge between it and Slurr. Before the monster could react, Valosa shot his mouth forward, and in a single motion bit the giant creatures head completely off its neck. The snow beast’s legs crumpled, and it fell heavily…right on top of Slurr.

“Not again!” he cried from beneath the bleeding carcass. Yarren laughed in spite of himself at the irony of it all. Valosa spit the monster’s head from his mouth, then easily pulled its body off the struggling general.

“You just can’t seem to stay out from under things, General Slurr!” Yarren said, still laughing.

“Ha, ha. You’re a very funny fellow, Yarren. An absolute comic! Now, how about helping me onto your mighty dragon’s back. I’ve had more than enough of this forsaken continent.”

As Yarren assisted his friend onto his match-mate’s broad back, he grunted in agreement. “I am not glad that Surok eluded us,” he said. “But it does not break my heart that when we do finally confront him, we will do so someplace warmer than the Frozen South.”

After making sure that Slurr was securely mounted on the green dragon’s back, Yarren climbed on as well. He sat behind the general, the better to steady him. “Up Val,” he said. “Take us away.” The green dragon spread his wings, and with great effort, lifted off the endless sheet of ice. “It is not easy for him to fly in the frigid air,” he explained to Slurr, “but he will carry us away none the less. He is as eager to be done with this icy hell as we are.”

“Do you suppose the army is still at Niliph?” Slurr asked. The small continent was the closest, geographically to their landing site on the Frozen South, and that is where Cerah had decided the ships would unload before going back to get the warriors and wizards who had remained behind.

“I do not know for sure,” said Yarren. “They have been gone for quite some time, and it’s possible that the Chosen One has moved them elsewhere, after Surok and his marauding scum. But that is where we’re heading none the less.” As they flew Yarren told Slurr the terrible news that Surok had also gone to Niliph, arriving before the Army of Quadar, and leaving naught alive, save the scavenger birds that feasted on the flesh of the slaughtered humans. “Even if they have left, it should be a safe place for you to rest and regain your strength. Surok has gone on to bask in the blood of Free People elsewhere. Renton said they had not determined in which direction his forces headed. Indeed, we do not even know for sure how he is transporting them. But the Admiral said that Cerah is convinced they will be able to locate him and overtake his mob.” As he spoke, Yarren reached into a leather pouch which hung around Valosa’s neck. From it he pulled a piece of bread, which he handed to the starving Slurr.

As he hungrily devoured the crust of bread, Slurr turned to his friend. Talking with his mouth full he said, “I bet you’ll be happy to see Russa.”

Yarren pictured in his mind the face of the beautiful young wizard to whom he was betrothed. He was indeed desperate to be with her, to hold her and tell her that everything would be alright. He closed his eyes as they flew, and drawing upon the strength of the spark within him, he magically projected a call to Russa, wherever she might be. “I’m coming,” he told her, unsure if she would be able to sense him from so far away. Then he said to Slurr, “And I’m sure you’re looking forward to reuniting with Cerah.”

The thought of once again being with his wife, after coming so close to dying on the ice of the Frozen South, caused Slurr’s eyes to suddenly well up with tears. Seeing this, Yarren placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I am happy to be bringing you to her,” he said. And then he added, to himself, Especially since I’m bringing you back alive.

He reached into the leather satchel once more, and pulled out Slurr’s hat. Handing it to the smiling general he said, “Put this on. It’s cold outside.”

Their laughter echoed across the desolate plain.

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