Reign of Winter
Welcome to Hel-dren!
Long streams of frost bellowed from the gap between Torin’s heavy beard and moustache. Issiren raids from the east drew a number of Kalsgard’s finest to defend the Linnorm borders from ice trolls and winter witches. It had been nearly a month since Torin has left the Undercroft, and many foul beasts had fallen to his blade.
The vicious winter winds seemed to claw at bare skin. Even under his numerous furs and leathers, Torin could still feel the sharp sting of winter. Much like the Ulfen, Torin’s northern ancestry gave him a natural resistance to the cold. Though Torin was not completely immune to the crippling effects of the deadly frost, and at times he’d rather be beside a roaring fire, enjoying hot food and warming ales.
With a mighty heave, Torin freed his halberd from the dead troll’s skull. Blood spattered the white snow like ink slipt upon parchment. He glanced around at the chaos. Several Ulfen and Dwarves lay slain around him, while others continued to engage the enemy. Torin shook his head at his dead companions. Though he was accustomed to seeing allies fall to more skilled, or faster foes, it did not mean he was unfeeling to their loss. To die in battle, in Torin’s opinion, was a great honour. The only drawback being that they would never again relish the exhilaration of combat.
Torin dismissed all thoughts that were not relevant at present. Though dismissing would imply he had done so intentionally. The truth being that Torin Bloodstone rarely needed to dismiss irrelevant thought. Instead, it seems to just fade into the background. Any thought that was not related to battle, or to fine foods and drink were considered irrelevant to him. And when he entered into the heat and fury of combat, not even food or drink could distract him.
Enough time had been wasted on moments of sentiment, and Torin charged towards the closet troll. The heavy snowfall and howling winds made seeing and hearing difficult. It wasn’t until he drew closer that he realised the troll was hunched over an Ulfen man who was trying hard to push back the beast. With all his might, Torin brought down the head of his halberd into the back of the creature. It screamed and twitched. Every movement drew the wound wider. Within seconds the troll was dead. The Ulfen man pushed the corpse aside and nodded respectfully to his Dwarven saviour. Torin recognised the young man as Mindulv. Yet to make a name of himself, this man who was practically a boy had arrived only a few days before.
“Get to your feel, and arm yourself, lad!” Torin growled. Mindulv scrambled up and took hold of his Warhammer. Torin snorted with a laugh at the thought of such a powerful weapon in the hands of this child.
“Why are there so many?” yelled Mindulv. Torin noted the fear in the Ulfen’s voice. It had not occurred to him until now that there were a larger number of trolls and other creatures than usual. This could only mean one thing.
“Winter Witches!” Torin shouted in reply.
The winds began to carry a hissing whisper. Torin had heard this evil before. While other, less courageous men, might cower at this tell-tale sign, Torin felt the blood within him boil.
“Follow me, and don’t get yourself killed!” Torin barked at Mindulv as he set off towards the source of the whispers.
“Where are you going? I can’t see anything!” Mindulv called, stumbling over the severed head of one of the Ulfen guards that escorted him east. Torin did not answer. He knew where to go because the Witches wanted to be found. Over the four seasons that Torin had served as one of the eastern protectors, he’d learned the signs of the Winter Witches. He was no ranger, nor an inquisitor. Winter was in his bones, and wherever there was an Issiren Witch, winter seemed all the colder.
As they drew closer to the whispers, Torin could see the devastation that evil magic had rort. Bodies of trolls, Ulfen and Dwarves laid out in groups of fives. Each with their heads touching to form five pointed stars. The sight of this gave Torin cause to pause for a moment. Mindulv let out a slight wheeze at the sight.
In the distance, Torin could see a slender woman dressed in white, speckled with the blood. She stared back at the two. A devilish grin drew across her face as she gestured to a group of bodies to her right. Torin glanced at the bodies and noted that the group seemed to be two shy of a five pointed star. Gripping his halberd, Torin spat orders to Mindulv.
“You will not flee, lad. Ready your weapon and hope to Gorum she aint’t got no magic left!”
Not waiting for his reply, Torin launch himself forward. Mindulv was surprised at the little Dwarf’s speed and agility as he vaulted the bodies before him. Mindulv joined Torin in his charge, and called an Ulfen battlecry.
The witch seemed surprised at the impulsive advance of what she hoped would be the last two pieces of her puzzle. Stretching out her hands, she began to mutter a spell. Torin felt the familiar tingles of magic throughout his body. Pulsing her hands, the witch sent a twisted magical light towards him. As the magic struck Torin in the chest, he stopped and tensed every muscle in his body. Whatever had hit him seemed to subside as quickly as it began. He had resisted whatever vial spell the witch had shot at him.
The smile seemed to fade away from the witch’s face as Torin began his charge once again. Mindulv, now at Torin’s side, seemed astounded that the Dwarf was still standing. The witch began to retreat backwards while starting to cast again. As Torin advanced upon her, she released her spell. Too late, the spiked tip of Torin’s halberd plunged into her shoulder and she let out a horrifying scream as the two vanished. Mindulv slowed to a walk and looked around. He was alone, with only the dead to keep him company.
Everything seemed to fade to black. Torin could feel himself twisting and shifting. Whatever had happened, he was sure he was dead. With a sudden burst of light, Torin found himself lying in tall grass with the hot sun beating down upon him. Disorientated, he got to his feet and glanced around. Wherever had was, it was hot. Having never experienced such a heat in his life, Torin considered that he’d somehow been teleported to a hellish realm. Though he’d not expected a hell-plane to be so colourful.
“You alright?” Asked a young man standing close by. The first thing Torin noticed about this man was his small stature and orange hair. The man seemed alarmed at the sight of the blood soaked Dwarf. The snow that had come to rest on Torin’s clothes had quickly melted under the hot Taldan sun, leaving Torin bloody and damp.
The man, whose name was Marcus, walked towards Torin slowly. It was clear to the Dwarf that this Marcus was no mere peasant. Across his shoulders was swung a long bow. Torin noted the packed earth on his clothes, and the leaves in his hair. Clearly some sort of guardsman or hunter, he thought to himself.
“Where did the witch go?” Torin barked, still pulsing with adrenaline.
“What witch?” asked Marcus who was now only a few feet away. His hand hovering very close to his sword that hung subtly from his belt.
“Don’t play games with me, Lad. The Issiren witch. She somehow bought me here. Where is she?” Torin’s patience was very thin. In the confusion, he’d dropped his halberd in the grass while he surveyed the landscape. As Torin bent to reclaim his weapon, Marcus drew his sword ready to defend himself. Torin didn’t seem threatened by the ranger. Instead, he fixed his halberd to his back and asked again, “Where is the witch?”
“Perhaps you mean Katarina. She’s from Issiren. She lives in the forest outside of Heldren.” Marcus said, lowering his sword.
“You will show me where she lives.” Torin commanded.
Marcus looked suspicious at the Dwarf. However, he could not fault the Torin’s story. It was clear from his clothes that he was not from Taldor. No Taldan would wear heavy furs in the midday sun. Plus there didn’t seem to be any tracks leading to or away from the Dwarf. Upon a closer inspection, Torin seemed to be standing in a circle of compressed grass that radiated from where he was standing. “Issiren Witches are evil, lad. It’s in your best interest to take me to her!” Torin continued, aware that the small human did not seem convinced or willing to follow his commands.
After a moment of silent pondering, Macrus decided to lead the Dwarf to Katarina’s hut. He was unsure what to think, but knew Katarina to be particularly intelligent and had never seen her doing anything he’d consider evil. Perhaps if Torin saw Katarina, he’d realise that she wasn’t the one he was searching for. Or at least she could help make sense of what magic was at play.
While they walked, Marcus tried to ask Torin questions about how he’d come to be in Taldor. He’d have settled for knowing where he’d come from, but Torin was not interested in small talk. He knew the witch was close and like always, the irrelevant thoughts of home and small talk seemed to fade into white noise.
“There!” Marcus pointed towards a small hut. “But she isn’t evil, despite what some of the town’s people might think.” Without acknowledging Marcus’ assurances, Torin drew his halberd and charged towards the hut. Marcus fumbled for his own weapon as he began to run, but did not react fast enough.
Torin put all his weight into his charge and burst through the front door of the hut. In his rage, Torin had not noticed the small bird watching him outside. As he burst through the door, the witch inside was waiting. The familiar magical tingle surged through Torin’s body. This time, he could not resist, and the slumber took him. Much the same as the inertia of Torin’s charge took him, face down, along the floor of the witch’s cabin and into a bookshelf that toppled and encased him. Lucky for Torin, this was not your typical Issiren witch. If she had been, he’d never have woken up. Though, to be honest, he probably wishes he didn’t.