Windhammer, Copyright Wayne Densley 2008 All Rights Reserved
With Pallenten gone your progress will be slower but the way ahead is clear. The gale of the night has faded and in the rising light of the twin suns, morning has given way to clear blue skies and a soft breeze that ruffles the grasses of the wide plain as you travel.
Ahead is the DevKraager Tor, no longer a cloud-wrapped mirage on the horizon it has grown into a snow-capped giant that dominates the landscape and makes all else about it appear insignificant. Stopping for a moment you look around for a high point on the plain that you can climb. Experience has taught you that it always pays to know what is ahead, and a nearby nest of weather-worn boulders will provide the best opportunity for you to survey your surroundings. It is a haphazardly piled formation of stones that takes some care to climb, but it is much higher than the surrounding plain. From this vantage point you can see all the way to the foothills, and a careful inspection of the way forward shows you will need to veer south-east around the base of the mountain to reach where you believe the entrance to Stoneholme lies. Such a route should take all day to journey on foot and you will have to run to do it.
Deciding that this will be your best course of action you carefully search the plains looking for any sign of trouble. It is fortunate that you do. Off to the east, you estimate some four kilometres distant, you spy a large group of around fifty creatures moving to the south. There is no doubt in your mind that they are Hordim. Few people live in these wild places and all animal life seems to have fled. Such a large group can only have come from across the Rift Mountains far away to the north. From what you have seen on your travels it appears that many Hordim have somehow made it across that great barrier and have started to infiltrate south. You will need to be very careful. Alone and out in the open you will be easy prey for a band of patrolling Hresh or Jotun.
After tightening your pack on your shoulders you clamber back down to the grassy base of the boulders and strike out directly south towards the foothills of the DevKraager Tor. At a steady run it is not long before you leave the plain behind and encounter a series of lightly rolling hills. As you travel south each hill rises slightly higher than the last and these, in turn, give way to a series of steeper foothills that hide many deep gullies and small streams. At first the trees about you are thinly scattered and in places nothing more than low brush, but as you go further south and ascend higher into the foothills these trees close into a thickly wooded alpine forest. In the cold of this season most of the trees have lost their foliage, the ground littered with drifts of brown and yellowed leaves, broken in places by patches of green moss and hardy stunted grasses. Looking above you see that the last traces of cloud have slipped to the east leaving a bright blue canopy overhead. At least you will not need to concern yourself with the possibility of bad weather on this last leg of your journey to Stoneholme.
Finding your way through the trees is not difficult. You are able to use a number of animal trails and old wagon tracks that lead in the general direction of the mountain. There is something amiss though. For all the forest that is about you it is very difficult to hear any sound of its inhabitants. No animal stirs or ground bird scatters as you pass. It is unnaturally quiet and quite unnerving.
The morning passes slowly as you make your way over what seem to be an endless procession of hills and vales. It is midday before you encounter the solid wall of a cliff face and determine you can go no further to the south. With the suns overhead it seems a good time for a meal. Lunch must be a simple affair though. It is too close to Stoneholme for fires so some raw vegetables and a strip of dried meat will have to suffice, but the day is fresh and cool, the weather has remained fine. All things considered, you feel tired but thankful that this part of your journey has remained uneventful. (This simple meal is the equivalent of one ration, return six points to your endurance level if needed and record the eating of one ration on your character sheet.)
The early afternoon is spent negotiating the rocky base of the mountain. Its weathered face is cracked and broken, strewn about with rockfalls and flows of gravel that trickle down from the cliffs above. The forest has grown thickly in places up to its base, and you have to make a number of wide detours to get around falls of rock that have bought down large areas of surrounding timber.
Your persistance pays off. Some two hours into your circumnavigation of the mountain, and just as you are making a particularly difficult detour around an enormous tangle of fallen branches, you are confronted by the impassable obstacle of a huge stone platform about ten metres high. It extends from the side of the mountain out into the surrounding trees. Although the stones are worn, and vines and other creeping plants have broken into its smoothly chiselled joints, you know it is Dwarvendim-made and exactly what you are looking for. Retreating to the forest you move carefully around the platform's edge, and then out into the trees to find a spot from which you can properly consider what you have discovered. Amongst a clump of small pines and low brush you find a hiding place from which you can survey the stone platform better.
Through the thick bushes you peer out at the massive entrance to the fortress of Stoneholme. Although showing the harsh effects of time the entrance is awe-inspiring. Shaped as a huge archway carved into the rock, the immense stone images of two Dwarvendim warrior-kings have been sculpted, arms raised as if they are holding the bulk of the mountain aloft. Under these two images the open cavern that is the entryway is black, the light of day swallowed completely by the darkness of its interior. From the entrance a wide polished stone platform spreads out from the cliff face for more than 50 metres, at each corner stands a large statue of a Dwarvendim warrior. A long flight of white marble stairs rise from the green grass of a large clearing at its base and reaches upwards to the stone platform. In times past this marble staircase would have met a road heading to the east, but this has long since disappeared. Gleaming white balustrades border the platform and stairs on all sides.
Leaning back against a sturdy trunk you relax for a moment, taking in the rough grandeur of the stone entrance and the dense forest that surrounds it. Within this dark treasure-house lies unknown danger, it seems a pity to squander the remains of such a fine day by attempting to enter, but you know you must.
You decide it is a good idea to eat. Your travel around the base of the mountain has been tiring so a meal will restore some of your energy. A rest prior to entering the fortress is also necessary. (Withdraw one ration from your pack. The rest will restore all endurance points you may have lost on your quest so far). Upon finishing your meal and resting sufficiently, you pack away your equipment and, by keeping to the edge of the clearing, make your way to the stone platform and the base of the marble stairs.
This book, and its associated books and other documents in the Chronicles of Arborell series are the intellectual property of the author, Wayne F Densley, and all rights are reserved by him. Windhammer is best viewed at 1024 x 768 resolution. Any questions regarding the Chronicles of Arborell can be answered by emailing the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Windhammer, Copyright Wayne Densley 2008 All Rights Reserved