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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 34

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

Truth be told, I have no idea what to expect upon walking into a Rock Wyrm village. The Shadowwolves have had skirmishes with them over the years, but with our own territory dwindling, there simply hasn’t been much contact between clans recently.

Though the fire dried and warmed my skin, the air is much colder behind the storm. The rain that had drenched me seems to have fallen as snow and sleet at higher altitudes. The slope is not yet steep, but we’ve been rising for some time, and before me lies a treacherous landscape of crunchy ice slicks and hidden contours of rock. As if the ground cover wasn’t enough, a bank of fog hangs over the mountain, anchored by the cooler air.

I stand at the edge of where muddy brown earth turns to stark white, twisting to gain my bearings, but the mist is impenetrable more than a dozen paces out. I don’t see any sign of a village but can’t imagine how I would be too far off.

“Perhaps we went astray during the storm,” I consider aloud, though Rhiannon had nothing to do with it. My hides are still damp and heavy, I’m getting hungry again, and feeling a little lost doesn’t improve my mood. With no recognizable landmarks and the higher ground now a blank sheet of white, I follow my gut and turn left.

The mountainside is slick enough from the rain – I don’t need ice complicating things before I even know if I’m headed in the right direction. Shadow and Rhiannon follow me silently, the first close by, the second at a distance. As I wander, taking my time to navigate around roots and crevices, I question what we saw in the Grackle’s fire. It seems like many moons ago; so much has happened in the interim.

I know magic exists: I’ve seen it from the Eladrin, the Grackle, and even Yorilis. I’ve been transported while dreaming and even the wolf beside me seems a part of the supernatural. Belief in expanded possibilities isn’t the question, at least not anymore. Seeing what I’ve seen, how do I discern reality from illusion?

The Grackle showed me monsters, born of the mountain, but was that vision in the fire the same as truth? The Spirit Shaman takes elixirs that alter his experiences and claims to be a shapeshifter, but couldn’t that all be in his own head? Uncertainty is healthy but uncomfortable.

Though the circumstances of its appearance are questionable, I’ve seen people die by the sword strapped to my back. It was all too real to them – perhaps holding it will ground me. I draw the weapon and it seems to vibrate as fog condenses along its edge, forming tiny frost crystals. I continue on, but my feet stop moving as a rising wind travels down from the mountain peak, chilling my bones while clearing some of the mist.

As if by magic, again leaving me to question whether what I see is real, the lifted fog reveals the outskirts of what I assume to be the Rock Wyrm village. No sounds of habitation reach my ears, and the huts within view have been leveled.

Collapsed needle-thatched roofs, splintered timber, and exploded stone fragments litter the ice. More than simply abandoned, the buildings that first come into view have been destroyed. But what has the strength, let alone the desire, to accomplish this? A great grizzly? A frost giant, perhaps?

I look over my shoulder and can tell from Rhiannon’s expression that she has seen what I have, even from further away. I extend a hand to signal that she should not approach, though she’s given no indication of an intent to do so. Some comfort can be derived from the heft of the blade in my grip and the fact that I’m not alone. I try to draw from it, though my heart is a drum in my chest.

Advancing quietly would be my preference, but the ice makes that impossible. Even stepping softly results in a crunch of compacting crystals. Clenching my jaw, I draw near the first hut and see that it’s even worse than it first looked. Strewn across the ice beyond the other side of the destroyed building, invisible from the angle of my approach, are bodies.

A man and a woman, likely the former residents, lie face down on the ground, their broken figures partially covered by the frozen precipitation. Whatever killed them did so violently and not for sustenance. Despite the damage and configuration of the bodies – one of the man’s arms has been torn from its socket and tossed nearby – they have not been fed upon, even by carrion birds or other scavengers. This happened recently.

I venture further into the village toward a cluster of shelters. The story is the same. The structures have all been demolished and their occupants murdered. This is a scene from a nightmare, macabre and scarcely believable.

Shadow’s whining draws my attention. He’s followed me but keeps back a few body lengths. His neck stretches tentatively toward a group of dead bodies as if he too can’t fathom that what he’s seeing is real. The Rock Wyrms are not providing any insight unless I learn to speak with the dead.

A thud, like falling stone, startles me and my attention snaps toward the heart of the village. I see movement beyond a collapsed roof, but the cause remains obscured by the haphazard angles of the ruin. Shadow’s demeanor shifts immediately. Though my back is to him, his menacing growl tells me enough – I’m in danger.

Recognition of that fact doesn’t overcome my curiosity or the possibility of getting answers. Both hands now grip the Founder’s Blade, and I call out to whoever lurks behind the hut. “Show yourself, friend or foe!”

A rumbling roar like the start of an avalanche answers me, and the sound of more stone striking stone echoes over the cold slopes as a creature ambles awkwardly into view. I say ‘creature,’ but it is unlike any living thing I’ve encountered. Bipedal and roughly humanoid, it seems composed of the very rock of the Great Mountain, held together by a mortar of snow and ice. Whatever it is, it roars even more furiously and rushes toward me with an uneven gait.

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