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DANGEROUS GAME: ACT II █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ ◆◈◆ █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ WHEN SNOW FALLS █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ ◆◈◆ █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ KNOX "FROST" HADLEY Tick- tick- tick, wrapped the branch on the window, sullen twigs swaying back and forth in the winter winds. Fire crackled in the corner as festive spirit permeated the air. The bar was full and lively, and Frost appreciated the noise, but his company was clearly anxious about something. Without fail, every minute, the man would look over his shoulder at burly men sitting behind. Clearly, closed spaces did not bode well with this one. At the note, he turned to his partner sitting beside — a man swathed in the tans, grays, browns, and the azures of a battalion that was no more. "Snipe," Frost whispered carefully, timed at moments when they teen was not looking. "Maybe it would... be better if we continue our conversation outside," he continued, motioning towards the boy-skeptic to the left. "I'm sure the others will find us." "Agreed," Snipe responded, catlike yellow eyes flickering in the firelight. While Snipe had the shape of his original human form, it was temporary, and Knox knew just how comfortable the man felt around these townspeople — his kind was less than welcome. Turning back, Hadley tapped the zephyr on the shoulder, half expecting him to jump at the touch. "Let's get some fresh air and finish talking outside," he said, getting up from the bar stool and walking towards the front door. When he reached to turn the knob, he felt a chill emanating from the metal, and with a moment's hesitation, he turned it, cracking open the semi-frosted door. The sense warmth and festive feelings seemed to be sucked out as a cold wall of air rushed in and blasted him in the face. He knew that the Valjer City was renowned for its cold, but the difference in climate was always a shock to his system. The sayings were true: Northerners just weren't made for the South. He hated the South, not just for its climate, but for what it had done to him — to his friends — to Snipe. It had only been a few months since the incident, but the events were still fresh in his mind. The betrayal of the second caravan — the ambush at night — the loss, the bite — all still salted wounds that wouldn't close. Aron, Wren, Berin, Dan, and Khakina were just lucky that they didn't have to suffer the same way. While they didn't save everyone from the third caravan, at least Knox was able to save a few. The battle in the sewers was particularly hard-fought, the alpha having almost torn the group to pieces. If Dan had not collapsed the sewers tunnels on the damn mongrel, they probably would not have gotten out alive. If only the had killed that one-eyed monstrosity as well.... The group barely scratched their numbers. Yes, the group was lucky to leave with their lives, but still, escaping the pack was not the same as revenge. Revenge would be the only thing that would free him now. "Close th'damn door, y'idiot!" yelled an angry voice from inside, waking Hadley from his momentary daze. Despite everything that Dan had done for the group, it did not change the fact that Knox hated the cold, and going outside to satiate the boy was less than favorable. He did not want to go out, but situation deemed it necessary, so with a curse under his breath, Frost cast himself out into the snow, Snipe following close behind. These parts weren't like the temperate homes he knew in Kethlerin. These parts were a freezing hell that deserved scorn and spite. It would always be a mystery to Frost as to why any people would settle in these frozen wastelands. Outside, the town lights lit the dark night, a light snow falling. Holding his hand out, Frost let a flake of ice fall onto his skin, watching the curious crystalline fractal melt in hand. Soon, the rest of the party would be arriving soon, and with their arrival, the journey back to Cobran would begin.
DANGEROUS GAME: ACT I █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ ◆◈◆ █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ THE WOLF MASQUERADE █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ ◆◈◆ █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ FRYGG FYNNVARTHR "Did your moth'r throw y'into a well when y'were a babe? Huh Frygg? Knock y'upside the head with a pound o' lead? Huh? Or're y'just stupid by nature?" Cregsgy snarled with hushed animosity. "How was I supposed to know that that was a man in the window?!" Frygg retorted back as the little man stuck his bulbous nose right into the boy's face. "No... no, no, no, laddy — not just any man. Y'shot the fucking general!" The small footstool that the dwarf stood on tilted forward as Cregsgy grabbed the boy by the shoulders. "Yer'lucky that the man ain't going to have yer head chopped off and thrown on a pike for what y'did.... Great Eira," he sighed with veins bulging, throwing the boy back into the corner before hopping of the teetering chair. From that point, one could barely make out the litany of dwarven curses he muttered under his breath as he hobbled away in disappointment. It was true, Frygg thought. The dwarf called him an idiot, and Frygg agreed. A rush of hot blood rushed to the boy's face, cheeks awash with mixed anger and embarrassment. First for the dwarf, and second for his ignorance. He was truly foolish. Everyone in the caravan knew the formal leader of the entire expedition — Lieutenant-General Lyall Zaryff. The man's moniker for slaying thousands of enemies on the field of battle? The Blue-Eyed Butcher. To think that he didn't recognize the icy cold eyes that observed him through the window were those of an ally, or that those whispers on the wind was The General trying to warn the party off the streets. Truly, truly foolish. Frygg's eyes darted over to the subject of his grievances. In the opposite corner of the dimly lit hall, Trellis held his hands over The General's shoulder while Aremis worked on closing the wound. A faint, soft silver glow emanated from the half-elf's hands as he spoke some sort of healing incantation. Quite surprisingly, The General's face had a carefree grin, not caring that he was just shot. The man was strong, but something about the man's entire demeanor was unsettling. Frygg thought about the dwarf's words once more. Was The General silently holding back a quiet temper? Was he going to kick him out, give him lashings for what he did? Feed him to the wolves waiting outside in the ruins? Regardless, he was in trouble, wasn't he. Biting his lip, Frygg hoped that archer Laurence wouldn't come over to rub more salt in his wounded pride. ◆ ◆ ◆ ARON STONEHEART "It was just an accident, Aron" The General said to the dwarf. "You don't need to throw the boy off the expedition. He's a good shot you know, we need strong men here." "An idiot is what he is..., and I thought I told y'never to call my by that name, Lyall," Cregsgy replied, irritated not by Zaryff or Fynnvarthr, but at the incessant dampness of his own boots. "A name is just a name, Aron, but if you insist, I won't," he said, wincing a bit as Aremis finished that last stitch. Thanking the two men who just healed him, he nonchalantly got up and motioned the dwarf to come over with him. Cregsgy reluctantly followed, knowing that the Lyall would continue to badger him if he didn't sit around for a smoke or drink. There they stood in an unoccupied section of the room. Back to the wall, General Zaryff nonchalantly pulled out a tin of of pipeweed(1), took a large roll of dried leaf, and stuck it between his two lips. "Still," he muttered alongside the sound of a flint lighter igniting in air. "They still don't know that you are the Aron Stoneheart? Now that is quite a surprise. I thought you'd be proud to be hailed by your men as a hero," Lyall chuckled before inhaling his freshly lit cigar. "We aren't damn heroes Lyall, and y'know that," the dwarf responded before finally kicking off his soggy boots to dry. The dwarf cared not that they were in the middle of conversation — the last thing he wanted while fighting the beasts of this city was trench foot. He had witnessed once the horrors of said condition on the field of battle, and never again, he swore, would he see it again. Feet first, friends later. "The only...," the dwarf grunted, pulling sock from swollen foot. "Reason...," he continued, wrenching the other off. "... Why I came back to this godforsaken city is to kill some damn wolves and collect the reward." he finished. "That's it," he said, accented with a sickening splat of dwarven foot-shields hitting the ground. "The Dragon's greed's what it is. My father said all you dwarves' had it. Every single one of you would jump in a volcano if I tossed a pretty coin in it!" The General laughed with smoke streaming from his lips, slapping the dwarf on the back. "Oh, I almost forgot," he said, looking at the smokeless dwarf's mouth. There he held the tin out to the dwarf, but Cregsgy politely lifted his hand to decline. "You are still the same as ever," The General smiled before putting the item back into his pocket. "Same with ye, ugly," he said before uncorking his flask and taking a long, warm gulp of dwarven mead. With a satisfied swallow, he quietly said, "It's good to see y'again, old friend." "You too... you too." ◆ ◆ ◆ FRYGG FYNNVARTHR The rest of the caravan had arrived shortly before the hour ended, led by one of The General's officers to the current safe location. She was a female, roughly seven feet tall, with a mess of curly auburn hair. Her eyes were a piercing green, like that of a hawk, with a hooked nose to add onto the resemblance. When she crossed the threshold of the room, the woman walked up to the riflemen and gave him a glare of pure disgust. "I would slap you, but General Zaryff told me not to touch you," she spit. Despite what she just said, the woman took off her black, moleskin glove and slapped his face with unrestrained force. "Do anything like that again, and being mauled by a pack of wolves will be the very least of your worries." Then in a flash, the mop of red hair turned around before walking away in a stately manner towards The General and the two other army men that were with him. With the arrival of the rest of the party, the room was packed with twenty-one foul-smelling people (or twenty-two individuals if you count the riding-dragon of the rider). Four of them were from the first caravan who arrived roughly a week prior, and were comprised of Lieutenant-General Lyall Zaryff of the Northern Armies and his companions. The rest of the seventeen (or eighteen) were of the fourth caravan that Frygg had arrived with. The room was relatively mundane, save for the expected battle-scars of the previous inhabitants. The floor and walls were warped after months of neglect in the cold weather, and were decorated by old claw marks, gun holes, sword slashes, and the occasional broken arrow. It was cramped given the amount of occupants within the room, but The General said it was better that they were all together. Perhaps it was for the best given that they all were now in hostile territory, surrounded by hungering beasts of strange origin. There were, however, a set of stairs leading to an upper floor to the back end of the room, and a trapdoor leading downwards. Now that he thought about it, The General did say that the group should all get dry and rest, and after all the attention from being the guy who shot The General, Frygg considered retiring to the more private location of upstairs to escape the scrutinizing eyes of his companions. In fact, perhaps he would do just that. Walking up the creaky wooden steps, he paused. First a bloody nose, and now this. Today was just not his day. (1) pipeweed: personal slang for tobacco.
DANGEROUS GAME: PROLOGUE █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ ◆◈◆ █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ A KNOT OF SILVER █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ ◆◈◆ █▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒█ FRYGG FYNNVARTHR The icy metal stung the tips of his fingers as he thumbed through the cartridges of silver bullets. "Seventy-two, seventy-three, seventy-four...," he counted quietly, keeping inventory of how many shots he would have. "Ninety-seven," he muttered, holding the last bullet in his hand up in the dim lantern-light, it's silvered point gleaming whiter than the dull gunmetal of the rest of the casing. While it would take dozens, maybe hundreds of lead shots to even faze a lycanthrope or white wolf, it is said that even a tiny knot of silver thread would be enough to bring either beast down to its knees. As he was examining the seams of his craftsmanship, the caravan abruptly jolted downwards as its wheels hit what seemed to be the thousandth hole in the rundown cobblestone road. As if the ride wasn't bumpy enough, the sudden movement caused the frozen ammunition to pop out from between Frygg's frostbitten fingers, falling onto the floor with a light ring. There it rolled across the ground like a coin on a walkway until it finally spiraled into (and eventually fell through) one of the many knotholes in the worn oaken floorboards. While Frygg tried his best to grab it, the piece of metal quickly disappeared from view. Throwing off his wool cloak, he hurried to the canvas entrance of the caravan, and opened it briskly to try to catch a glimpse of the runaway bullet. A gush of frosted air came into the already frigid caravan alongside a mild flurry of snow. Eyes reopened to only be burned by the needles of icy wind. Nothing could be seen through the white screen of the blizzard they were trekking through. Whatever drop of silver that was to be searched for was of no contest for the white ocean that lay behind. "Close the damned flap, y'idiot!" shouted one in the caravan, voice shrill and shivering. "There's a godforsaken storm out there, are y'blind? Close the blasted thing before we all freeze to death!" Reluctantly looking back, Frygg closed it with mounting frustration. Walking back to his seat in the cramped confines of the vehicle, he sat down only to find a damp spot from the snow that blew in. "Ninety-six," was the new number he muttered to himself, brow furrowed as he wrapped himself tightly in his woolen attire, pants now damp. Ninety-six bullets was going to be all he had for this journey. Then came the same voice which spoke again with heavy accent, "Damn'it Frygg, y'can't be so clumsy. These aren't the homey lands of the Gran North y'know, or the shores of Orish'a," voice stressing "sh" like a finger scratching glass. "Sure, y'think fight'n monsters out there is the same as fight'n monsters here, but lad you might as well be naked to these wolves if y'think you're prepared at all for the Cold South. We're lucky its summer, or'else what y'done jus' now would of frozen the damned cabin twelve times over. Use some sense for once. Y'have a brain, don't ye?" Frygg looked up. A face to match the voice: Cregsgy Stoneheart was the man who spoke. Beard matted, face wrinkled, hair peppered with gray strands, Cregsgy seemed to be at his wits end with the entire trip already. His most defining feature was so obvious even in the poorly lit room: a single white eye whose gaze threw daggers at the boy. To Frygg's dismay, the dwarf was the primary guide for the expedition. Short, stout, loose-mouthed, yet commanding, Cregsgy was quite the curmudgeon. Thankfully, it seemed that the cold weather had cooled down the hothead by a considerable degree since the number of profanities uttered was at a shocking minimum. It was a good thing the dwarf wasn't drinking. ◆ ◆ ◆ A few more hours passed, and no one spoke as the men in the caravan were trying to keep the warm air in their chests. There was nothing to entertain, everyone's face was hard and looking down, wrapped up in their blankets and their own thoughts. The sound of snow beating the side of the vehicle was almost maddening as minutes felt like hours. Boredom for the human was starting to reach a new breaking point, if that were at all possible. He had already counted his munitions, cleaned his rifle, polished his knife, and checked his wares twenty-three times since the last hour. Reaching into his right pocket, he grabbed his pocket watch and looked at the golden clockface. Its been over a week since the group had begun its trek into the frozen wastes of the Imperial South to the ruined city of Cobran. Despite it being the middle of summer, the region did not seem to know the difference between seasons as its skies were cloaked in what seemed to be a never-ending winter. Then the sound of a distant howl broke the silence. They were close.