They were ready to go at the crack of dawn. The entire expedition was gathered in the center of town, most talking seriously amongst themselves and meeting the rest of the expedition. Borg spotted a female dwarf on the other side of the square and wanted to go sing to her, but Elijah and Killian put a stop to that before it began. Catti was leaning against a building, examining her nails and staring at the group in front of her distastefully.
Elijah was too busy yelling at Magdelena for not telling him she had a Bag of Holding, and Maggie was standing in front of the irate paladin, laughing her head off, which managed to piss him off even more. Jaruah rolled her eyes as she moved away from the pair.
Jaruah glanced around, scanning the crowd for others she knew. She glimpsed Erevain standing in the doorway of the Snowdrift Inn. He waved cheerfully, and she waved back.
The expedition itself was composed of members from many races, genders, and religions. There were about forty people total, all making their way through the frigid pass. Eager as they were to seek out the evil they knew was holed up in either the pass or the close neighboring burg of Kuldahar, they did not expect it to find them first.
As they left Easthaven, Borg headed the party singing ‘The Song of the Battle Eve’ that he had learned from Erevain. Catti was sullenly ignoring him while walking beside him. Jaruah and Elijah were in the middle of the group, while Maggie walked by herself and Killian brought up the rear. It was Maggie who first suspected trouble. She remembered back to her childhood days, playing ‘Hide-and-Seek’ with Killian and the rest of the neighborhood hobbits . . .
“Killian, look up!” little Magdelena giggled. Her brother automatically raised his head and saw Niri Stubbletoes peeking through the branches of the spindly apple tree. She squealed and jumped down, running off to hide in another, less conspicuous place.
“Kill, you hafta look up!” Maggie insisted. “When you’re all grown up, I bet you get attacked by a big monster from the sky. I bet it eats you.”
“Nuh - uh!”
“Uh - huh!”
“Nuh - uh!”
“Uh - huh!”
“Nuh - uh!”
“How much you wanna bet?”
“MAGDELENA IRONLEAF!” Their mother screamed from the doorway, her face a bright, angry red. “Have you been betting again, by any chance?!”
The halfling chuckled and flung her head back to look at the endless grey sky. Her trained rogue’s eyes immediately spotted movement at the top of one of the cliffsides.
“Killian!” she called sharply. “Borg!” The halfling and dwarf were at her side swiftly, drawing short sword and axe respectively.
“You point, I kill,” Borg said expectantly. She shook her head.
“There’s something on top of the cli—” But Magdelena was cut off by a thunderous roar that shook the pass and swept her off her feet. Borg caught her around the waist with one arm to stop her from falling over and charged forward as the world tumbled down around them, a mountain’s worth of snow nipping almost at their heels.
The first thing Catti felt when she awoke was . . . cold. She was propped painfully against a rocky wall, her pack in her lap.
“Ugh,” Catti said in disgust, brushing snow and ice off her front and wincing as she touched the large bruises forming on her back and her split bottom lip. Unfortunately, she wasn’t yet skilled enough to cast a healing spell for anything other than cuts and broken bones, and she would need her spells for worse injuries anyway. Hopefully the jar of painkilling herbs she carried hadn’t been shattered by the impact. She heard a moan a few feet away, and turned slightly to see Elijah sitting up, rubbing his neck. He seemed to be uninjured besides a shallow cut above his eyebrow.
“Jaruah?” he called groggily. “Catti?”
“Over here, Tyrran,” she snapped. “By the Abyss, this is going to hurt tomorrow. No, screw tomorrow, it’s hurting NOW!”
He frowned at her use of his faith to refer to him, yet in spite of his situation, Elijah felt a small smile tweak his features. It was nice to know that Catti would never, ever change.
The first thing Maggie felt when she awoke was . . . warm. She really didn’t want to wake up. The rogue snuggled closer to the soft warmth, feeling something tighten rather comfortably around her shoulders. She opened her eyes to meet a pair of grey ones.
The halfling and dwarf stared at each other, stunned, then Maggie jerked away from Borg. Just in time, too, because she looked up to see her brother approaching.
Killian returned, presumably from scouting. “The other three are just below us, on the ground. We’re on a ledge about seven feet off the ground; if we get their attention, they’ll probably help us down.” He paused. “At least, I think they will.”
“WOULD YOU GET THIS BLOODY SNOW OFF OF ME?!” Jaruah snarled, shoving snow away from her with the flat side of her sword. “GET IT OFF ME!”
“Jaruah?” A feminine voice asked above her. “Elijah, I’ve found her!” A pause, then, “Paladin, are you deaf? I’VE FOUND HER!”
The spellcaster came into Jaruah’s line of vision and helped her up, muttering about the inadequacies of worshipers of Tyr.
The three of them set off to find the little folk, and didn’t need to look far. Killian’s frantic calls were heard right above them, and soon the halflings and the dwarf were on the snowy ground again.
Just when they had resigned themselves to braving the pass, a gaunt man with a shocked expression ran up to them.
“Merciful gods! You’re lucky to be alive. Anything broken? Are you all right?” The man was wrapped in grimy furs and looked as though he had not seen a bath for at least a decade.
Being in an avalanche is enough to make anyone cranky, and combined with lack of sleep and too much snow, asking stupid questions of the person can be potentially lethal to the victim. Jaruah fit all descriptions.
“No, we are not all right! Half the damn mountain just fell on our expedition! Do we look all right?!”
“Excuse her, she’s kind of in a bad mood,” Maggie said cheerfully. “Who are you?” Elijah shook his head wonderingly. It seemed nothing could quell the halfling’s indomitable attitude.
“I’m a nobody, really. I’m a hermit, and I live in a cave over yonder.”
“‘Yonder?’” Killian muttered.
“We’re headed to Kuldahar,” Elijah spoke up. “Can you point us in the right direction?”
“Kuldahar? Why would you want to go to that dumpy place? All that’s there is a big oak tree.”
Jaruah interrupted. “Look, all we asked for was directions. Now can you tell us the way or not?!”
The hermit looked taken aback. He had obviously not been in contact with others for a long while. “Sheesh. No need to get all snippy. It’s due east of here. Just go through the pass and you’ll see the place before you’re there. Be careful, though. The pass is swarming with goblins — they’ve overrun the local mill. I would take the long way around if I was you, but that takes several weeks.”
“I’m sure we’ll be able to handle whatever Kuldahar Pass throws at us,” Elijah said. “Thanks for the directions.”
The hermit bid them farewell, and the party set off into the frozen pass under the midday grey skies that were the trademark of Icewind Dale.
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