Whiteout

To say the path we were traversing up into the Misty Mountains was treacherous is an understatement… it was near suicidal!  The higher we traveled, the thinner the air became and the snow grew heavier… it became near impossible to see more than a few feet ahead as the howling winds and driving snow squalls took its toll.  “Let’s see those bastard dwarves handle these conditions!”I thought to myself, smiling evilly.  Chucaro shot me a sideways, questioning glance, but kept moving slowly up the path.  We had been traveling for hours, it felt as the daylight slowly faded away… well, what we could only discern as daylight… the conditions seemed to play tricks with the lighting.

Almost just as suddenly as the snow storm appeared, it was gone… we were near the top of the precipice when the wind stopped, along with the snow… we shook the snow off and did a quick recon of the area… nothing we could sense was nearby and no tracks to pick up nearby… not surprising as we lost all sense of direction during the ascent.   During our search, Chucaro found a series of boulders that were leaning against each other, forming a crude den, which provided ample room for us to rest for a while.  A quick hunt in the nearby woods provided some fresh rabbit, as well as a fox.

After a much needed feast, I suggested to Chucaro that she get some rest… it would be safer to traverse the mountains with the aid of daylight and we would need our strength once we caught up with the dwarves.   She appeared ready to rebuff my suggestion, but thought better of it.  She move to the rear of the den, curled up and was almost instantly asleep as I went out the entrance to keep watch.

The surroundings were deathly quiet during the night… no sounds of other night beasts and the winds remained still.   I hopped onto the boulder overlooking the entrance and went stealth… as time went by, I slowly dozed off….

—————————————

The keep of the dwarven caravan was similar to the numerous keeps strewn about the Ettenmoors… mostly intact, but several areas crumbled away and many areas of rubble dotted the landscape.  Knowing that there were countless breaches in the thick rock walls, there was no shortage of dwarven scouts and warriors.  There was no sign of the wheeled cage housing Wargie… it must be further inside the walls, but she was here, that I could tell.

Chucaro and I surveyed the perimeter to determine the best way into the keep.  We skirted our way around the many small camps that littered the surround grounds and located a stone outcropping… it appeared to be an outer wall that had crumbled away, but connected to the main building via an archway that looked intact.  We deftly climbed the broken section and stealthily made our way towards the arch.  It was the middle of the night and pitch black, but I still felt uneasy about not seeing much resistance along the way… it was a feeling that had proven itself true numerous times in the past, so I remained highly alert, expecting anything to happen.

We crossed over the arch without incident and followed the narrow wall as it turned to our left… and not more than 10 meters away were a couple of guards, nodding off at their posts.  I motioned to Chucaro to take out the right and I would handle the guard on the left.  With lightning quickness, both guards were dispatched without a sound… we couldn’t see any other guards patrolling nearby and located a narrow opening between the walls straight ahead of us… as I turned to tell Chucaro to wait here while I checked it out, the look she gave me made me realize I would’ve just been wasting my breath.  We made our way in stealth towards the opening.  As we passed the opening and stood in a narrow opening, we froze as we heard the sounds of metal and shuffling feet… I looked behind us to see a half- dozen dwarves blocking the narrow entrance and heard Chucaro let out a warning growl as I faced back in front of us… at least another dozen dwarves had us surrounded… we were trapped!!

—————————

Despite the sub-zero weather, I awoke sweating profusely… these nightmares seemed so real… I stood up and shook myself off.  It was still black outside, so I quietly walked it to check on Chucaro… good, she was still asleep.  I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to keep watch.

As the dawn slowly broke, I could hear Chucaro stirring… it would feel good to be on the move… the last few dreams made my skin crawl… “They were just dreams… get hold of yourself!” I admonished myself… this was not the time to lose sight of why we were here.

Looking around, there was a serene quality to the area… a fresh blanket of snow covered the mountain and the air was still… a peaceful start to a hopefully successful day.  We started our trek north, hoping to pick up the trail of the caravan, but with the amount of snow that fell, it wasn’t looking promising.   The path up to the Mistys took us further south than we knew… it was late morning by the time we heard the sound of roaring water.   My shoulders slumped as I looked across the water… the spray from the rushing water obscured our vision and made it impossible to see any tracks.  We stayed south of the water and started east, keeping the water within sight.  Outside of the occasional slippery boulder, moving east went uneventful… we were heading downhill, but at a much less severe grade.   It wasn’t long before we made it to a plateau and headed towards the river.  The sun had long since disappeared and the sky was replaced with dark, threatening clouds.  A long thunderclap broke the silence and arcs of lightning lit up the sky.  We picked up our pace along the waters edge, alternating our view between the northern bank and the western sky… the storm was approaching fast.  I was barely able to avoid running into Chucaro, who had stopped to take a quick drink… too absorbed into my own thoughts instead of my surroundings.   I felt it before I heard it… the storm hit almost instantly and with such fury.  I had to brace myself to avoid being blown into the river.

“We need to keep moving,” I yelled to Chucaro through the howling winds.  I could barely see her nod through the driving snow.  We’ve been in snowstorms in the northern Ettenmoors before, but nothing of this magnitude… at least Chucaro’s coloring will allow her to easily blend in with the surroundings.  At least we were going with the wind, which made traveling somewhat faster.  We kept following the shore hoping for a break in the weather… it was impossible to see across the water for any signs of the dwarves.  I was starting to wonder if we would be able to find them again when I heard Chucaro let out a yelp.  I stopped momentarily, but couldn’t see more than a few meters ahead of me. “Chucaro?!?!” I yelled.  No answer… I leaped forward, panic setting in… as I ran, I suddenly fell forward as there was no ground for my paws to land on.  I lost my balance and tumbled down.  Everything was spinning as I was rolling, but it wasn’t long before I came to a sudden stop… I was on my back and had my fall broken by something soft.  I just laid there for a moment to get my bearings and make sure I wasn’t going to keep tumbling.  I looked up to see Chucaro looking down at me. “Are you ok?” she asked.

“Yeah, I panicked when I heard you yelp and raced after… well, you know the rest of the story.”

“Didn’t see the drop off til it was too late,” she continued.  “It wasn’t a far drop, and we are out of the brunt of the storm.”

I rolled over onto my feet and shook off the snow.  She was right, the wind was blocked considerably, but the snow was still making visibility difficult.  Trying to judge direction, we headed off to where we hoped was towards the water.  The snow started to lighten and I could smell the river… we were close!  Chucaro stopped suddenly and went stealth… she let out a low growl and I looked over to where she was fixated… there, across the river was a dwarf!  He was hunched over filling numerous flasks with river water.   We crouched down to watch him.  After a few minutes, he picked up his items, stood up, gave a cursory look around and headed east along the shore.  We followed along the southern bank for a few minutes and noticed the river wasn’t as wide in this area.  He walked out of view, but his scent was overpowering… near enough to the point of gagging.

We slowly waded into the icy water… our thick fur doing an ample job of keeping us warm, but we couldn’t stay in the water long.  We made our way to the north back and shook ourselves off… ice had already started to form on the ends of our fur.  We continued after the dwarf.  After a few minutes, we came upon a rock outcropping.  We could hear voices nearby!  As we peered around one of the rocks, we saw the dwarven camp!  We looked at each other excitedly… “Finally!” I thought, “we can put an end to this!”  The time for the encounter was at hand!

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