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Mystery of the Sword Spine Peaks
Regis tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword. The creak of leather echoed amongst the chilled air. His breath ushered forth from his mouth like the snowy torrent from an enraged ice dragon. The blade flickered in the moonlight as it slashed down and to the right. It swooped behind him, then like a serpent it coiled up to his right and lanced out to his left.
The raven haired man reached out and grabbed the shoulder of the impaled orc. A quick push freed his blade from the greenskin’s chest. He stepped back letting the half-corpse of the first greenskin to charge him fall into the snow. His sapphire eyes scanned the icy fog for any more foes, but only the slender skeletal silhouettes of sleeping trees dared to menace him.
Regis let out a sigh and released the tension in his muscles. He had been traversing the Sword Spine Mountains for the past week, and this was the 9th orc attack he had to ward off. While the trek had always been dangerous, the orc tribes usually held up in their mountain holds in the winter.
He kicked over the still intact orc with a grunt. “Another member of the Scorched Hand.” He growled. He had never encountered this tribe before, but the tattoo of a flaming fist on face had turned up on each of the greenskins who had assailed him this year. This tribe was either small and desperate, or ruled by a dangerous leader. Either way, Regis did not like it, especially so close to his favorite stopping grounds: The White Stag Inn.
Regis let the heavy oak door of The White Stag Inn slam behind him as he made his way inside. While all eyes turned to watch the newcomer, he did not flinch as he made his way to the large hearth on the far side of the common room. He tore his gloves from his hands and began to rub some warmth into them as the eyes of the patrons returned to their own business.
His vision went black as a hand crossed over his face and pulled his head back. He felt a chilled blade snake it’s way under his chain shirt and press into his back. A soft voice whispered into his ear, “How dare you show your face around here after what you did last time.”
“Look, I had to run out on my tab. I drank that oaf under the table fair and square, but you and I know that he wouldn’t take the loss so friendly when he would have woken up.” Regis peeled the slender hand away from his eyes and turned to face the slender elf was looking at him with an intense stare. He looked into her emerald eyes as he brushed aside a long lock of auburn hair and kissed her on the cheek. “Besides, it’s not like I wanted to leave your side.” He whispered in her ear as he pulled away.
He laughed as realized she was still wearing the same long purple robes she had worn for the past 6 years he knew her. “You really should change your fashion sense one of these days. If one didn’t know any better, they might mistake you for a guy.”
His laugh was greeted with a kindly punch to the gut. “I deserved that.” He coughed. He wasn’t sure if her normally lilly white skin was flushed pink from embarrassment or anger.
He didn’t have long to think about it before a sudden blow to the back of his knee caused it to buckle. He dropped to his knee and steadied himself with his hand. “Aye, that’s right laddie. Ya should show the lady some respect while ya ‘pologize ta her for that remark.” A deep voice bellowed at ear level from behind him.
Regis smiled and closed his eyes. “He is right Celia. Permit me to apologize for my most disrespectful language. I did not mean to offend one so beautiful and fair.” He bowed his head and began to rise. “There is no fairer sight to behold than your beautiful face.” He slowly began to open his eyes and as he saw Celia’s rose red face, he whirled around dropping to a knee, this time of his own accord. He grabbed the short dwarfs bristly black beard and kissed him full on the lips.
“Are ye daft lad!” the dwarf sputtered as he careened backward in shock. His bald head reflected the candlelight like a polished helm about the inn while he frantically wiped his lips on his sleeve.
The inn erupted into a chorus of laughter as Regis cleaned his own mouth with a quick swipe of his thumb. “A pleasure seeing you again Thrain.”
“And ye too laddie. That is so long as ye can pay yer tab.” Grumbled Thrain.
“As I was just about to tell Celia, I had every intention of paying back my tab.”
Several drinks and several hours into the night, Regis had caught up with his two friends. Thrain grunted, “Aye, we been ‘earin tales of ‘em Scorched ‘and fellows but they smart ‘nuff ta stay away from The White Stag.”
Celia swirled a finger in her mug then watched as drop after drop flowed from her finger back into it. “It’s only a matter of time until they make an assault on the inn.”
“An we will have some fresh new decorations ta let the customers know it’s safe here.”
Regis smirked, “Now old man, I am sure you can take on a good half dozen in your sleep, but if they are desperate they won’t be scared off. And even you can’t fight off two dozen greenskins while extinguishing any fires they may start.”
“Aye, and tha’s why I keep the lassie about.”
Celia straightened up and let a tinge of pain enter her voice, “Why Thrain, I thought a lonely old dwarf like you simply appreciated the company of a charming lady such as myself.”
“But a course lass, who would nah appreciate the tender kiss O’ yer fist on there cheak, or tha dulcet tones tha summon those hungry gouts a fire?” He took a gulp of his ale.
“What can I say? I am not one to wait for a prince charming to rescue me when I can simply shoe away the rats.” She finished off her mug.
Regis smiled, it had been a year since he last saw his friends, but they acted as though only a day had passed. “I’m sure the two of you are more than a match for some orcs, but I am not one to sit around a wait for my enemies to come to me.” He let his words hang unfinished.
Celia and Thrain watched him, his stern expression completing his meaning. Thrain was the first to break the silence. “Fine!” he snorted, “Fine. I’ll raise my axe fer ya one more time, but ya have ta promise me you’ll let me retire here at me inn after this.”
Regis placed a firm hand on Thrain’s shoulder. “You have my word. I’ll let you live your days away in peace.” He rocked his shoulder and slapped him on the back. “Until the next catastrophe happens of course.”
As Regis laughed and Thrain shooed him back with a flail of his arms, Celia sighed. “Whatever will I do with you two? Count me in, I have to make sure you don’t kill each other.”
Regis finished his mug and slammed it down on the table. “The it’s settled! Tomorrow marks the start of the Scorched Hand’s end!”
A pair of ruby eyes flickered in the dying light of the smoldering embers. With a grunt, the embers flared to life revealing a dour green face. A heavy set brow and a pair of large white tusks dominated the orcish face. The embers faded as fraternal twin plumes of smoke coiled atop each other again and again. One white blue and the other crimson hued black.
As the spiraling tendrils rose up to meet the orc’s horizontal gaze, they took on serpentine form. Like entwined cobras they pulled away from each other and traded blows. For several moments the ruby orbs watched the embattled serpents, with neither seeming to gain any advantage. A low howl from deep within the cave snatched the greenskin’s attention. A gale rose up from the bowls of the earth, smothering the flames and casting the creature into perfect blackness. The wind soon died out and the obsidian panorama was matched with uniform silence.
A rumble, like stone against stone broke the stillness, “Soon the answers I seek will be revealed.”
The snow crunched beneath the heavy boots of the three figures making their way up the steep incline. Gouts of frost erupted from their faces with each labored breath. The gentle but steady snowfall had blanketed the mountainside in pure white, while the sky gently churned in a sea of light grays just out of reach.
Thrain stopped and used his crossbow to prop himself up as he held his left side. He weazed, “Remind me again why were climbing the side of a thrice cursed mountain in blizzard when there are some lovely warm caves we could be traveling in and be hidden from the orcs?”
Regis looked back over his shoulder as he steadied himself with his right hand against the steep slope. “Because,” He said with a pang of frustration at having to explain for the third time, “We want to be found by the orcs. Specifically the Black Bear clan. And the Black Bears don’t live in those caves.”
The Black Bears were a tribe of orcs that resided in the Sword Spine Peaks. Their leader, Ogmut Dranog, was an unusually thoughtful orc. Unlike his brethren, he kept relatively peaceful relations with the civilized races that called the mountains home. He managed this owing to the fact that his people had settled in an iron rich cave complex that was isolated from the warren of tunnels and pitfalls that ran beneath the frosty exterior of the mountain.
The relatively bustling iron trade of the Black Bears afforded them a certain amount of importance in the region, and with that importance came safety. At least as long as they remained neutral in any conflicts that arose in the region.
“I know it is around here somewhere,” Regis cut the conversation short by beginning his ascent once again, “Just not exactly where.”
Thrain shot a glance to the elf “An why do ya look like yer just out for a gentle walk in the park?”
Celia shrugged. “I have my ways.” She exhaled a cloud of frost, snaked a finger through it and with a coy smile she blew him a kiss before following after Regis.
Thrain felt a faint tingle of warmth gently wash over him. “Ach! Wait for me!” The dwarf began to trudge through the thigh high snow.
The orc looked down on the black haired man and his two companions. For an orc, he had an astonishing grasp of the common tongue of man, “Big boss says to let traders in unharmed,” his bulging eyes wandered to the sword hanging on the man’s back, “but not with weapons.”
He waved a large hand to a table in the corner of the rickety shack that served as guard post to the orcish den. “I not take, unless you die. Then is mine.” He watched as the human and dwarf angrily loaded the table with several daggers, hand axes, a large sword and a finely carved crossbow. “Ragnol hopes you cause a fuss,” he chuckled.
Regis glared up at the orc. “Just know that when I get back, I will claim one of oyur fingers for every fingerprint I find. Now can we go inside, it’s cold out here.”
The orc laughed, “You have bravery of orc. I might see you again.” He walked out the back door and waved towards the large iron gate that had been erected into the mouth of a large cave. After several moments, the gate began to creak and groan. Like the mandibles of some demonic insect, the gate swung open in a belch of warm and foul air.