The Chronicles of Theldar

Ember's life is simple, normal, nothing to boast about but she likes it. That is until one day her peaceful town is invaded by mysterious enemy forces and she is thrown headlong into an adventure which will test her, her friends, and ultimately decide the future of Theldar.


7. The descent - Chapter 6

~ Chapter 6 ~

The descent


   Within half the hour they had reached the bottle-neck Felin had described, such was their speed on the skis, and coming to a stop they relieved themselves of the skis for a moment or two, propping them against the rocky mountainside and settling down to see what supplies they had been given by the kind, generous barbegazis.

   Rummaging through their packs they each found a loaf of seedbread each, the equivalent to a basketful of fruits and an abundance of sugary foods to keep their energy up. While Ember and RiffRaff wolfed down a sugary candied apple each Bracer searched his own bag and tossed most of it aside, each candied or caramel-dipped fruit which hit the snow quickly being devoured by Lunk who patted his snowy belly happily as each one went down.

   ‘Don’ need that. Don’ need that. Eurgh; that looks foul. Don’ wan’ that.’ Soon his food satchel was half empty of its supplies, and it was clear on his face Elder was slowly becoming more and more enraged with each tossed aside fruit.

   It was at the moment a sugar-coated pear thudded into the snow that the wizard exploded. ‘What’s your problem Bracer?! Ever since we left on this trip – which might I point out could well be the difference between the destruction or survival of Theldar –you’ve been the grumpiest most intolerable I’ve ever known you to be! How can you be so obnoxious and self-serving?!’

   With an irritably calm face the basajaun looked his party leader in the eye. ‘Would ye like te know what me problem is, elf?’

   ‘Indeed I would, dwarf.’

   ‘That’s outta line you great pompous excuse for a mage.’ Bracer had jumped up and was pointing at Elder; his face flushed a deep crimson and his beard flapped in an unruly style in the wind.

   ‘More out of line than you insulting the hospitality of our kind hosts and their generous supplies and not only that but you paying no attention whatsoever to our newest member who has been torn from her family to help us and you couldn’t care a bugger!’

   Ember blushed and tried to interject, ‘Oh, I don’t mind really…’

   ‘No Ember,’ Elder growled, locking heads with the basajaun and beating back Ember’s words, ‘every time we get someone new it takes him near a month to accept them. And that’s not even the case with Lunk here – he’s been here for ages and still this obnoxious dwarf will hardly look at him.’

   ‘You call that thing an Outlaw?! We found ‘im in the forest and decided he should come with us! He’s barely even sentient!’

   ‘He’s a buggane! You know as well as I do they’re an incredibly nature-aware and wise race! He’s saved your ass more times than I care to point out dwarf and if you won’t admit it I will; his bare strength has got us through several touch and go fights!’

   ‘I swear to the gods Elder if you call me dwarf one more time I’ll snap yer neck!’

   ‘Try it dwarf, you know I could smite you before you’d even taken a step.’

   ‘I’m a basajaun you incompetent fool – I’m a giant!’

   The air round Elder began to shimmer violently and Serena had to step in to stop the fight. ‘Stop this, stop it I say!’

   ‘You wanna know my problem Elder; it’s this whole damn escapade! It’s been border on three weeks since we had a proper fight and there wasn’t one for a month before that! If we’re supposed to be saving the land, then tell me, where are the baddies? Where are the cowardly scum who are supposed to stop us? Where are they you magical freak?!’

   Elder advanced on him, the air around him shimmering ever stronger almost as if it was the surface of water that was being splashed but Serena blocked his path. ‘Stop Elder, you’re not like that anymore; you’ve left that behind you. Stop!’

   Bracer’s face broke into a smug smile, ‘Yeah freak, stop for yer sissy friend.’

   Serena turned to the cocky creature with a cold fury in her eyes which withered him where he stood almost instantly, ‘I’d shut that foul mouth of yours before you’ve got two arrows in your chest and then I get Lunk on you.’

   Bracer was about to come out with some cocky remark but one look at the great mole who had been taking everything in and was cracking his massive knuckles provided him with enough reason to think against it.

   Taking Elder over to one side and exiling Bracer to a spot several meters away from anything or anyone Serena took hold of the situation in a matriarchal manner. Meanwhile Ember didn’t even need telling to calm down Lunk while RiffRaff scoffed more candied food, seemingly indifferent to the recent fight. Tauro simply sat sharpening his axe silently.

   Stroking Lunk’s chest softly to calm his rising mood Ember tried to overhear the two elves’ conversation but the wind whipped at their words, though she read the look on Elder’s face and the occasional shimmering in the air to mean something was very wrong – she’d never seen magic manifest itself by making the air ripple and by Serena’s worried face she could only take it as bad news. Still, she couldn’t hear anything, so she turned to puzzling out the locket which hung about her neck. Lunk watched over her, just as enthralled with the locket as she.

   So far all she knew is that it had belonged to three travellers who must have dropped it and was in some old symbolic language. There was a possibility they could have been fleeing a witch hunt in Amantrei and had business in the city to which she was now headed.

   What could it all mean? Why would someone come all the way over the mountains if they could simply hide out in the forest or take a much easier route into Lleroan? Why did they have the need to run so badly than any other witch or wizard who could merely cloak their position? What could the symbol mean and why would it be in their locket? And what kind of business could they have had in the city?

   She decided the best place to find out more would be the city itself so, placing the issue to the back of her mind, she waited until Serena had finished with both Elder and Bracer and had bought them all back into the group, though the two rivals never once made eye contact Ember noticed, or for that matter never even looked anywhere near the other. Elder’s fury was easily visible however, for although it did not shimmer, the air around him glistened dully in a fashion not extremely noticeable, but far from invisible.

   In five minutes they were preparing to set off and Ember had hauled her bag back onto her back and was just heading to grab her skis when Lunk suddenly became very jumpy. His lips curled to reveal his teeth and a constant growl from the pit of his stomach undermined everyone’s work.

   Ember tried to sooth him but he shook off her arm, a move that shocked Ember slightly and severely unnerved her too; Lunk’s refined senses had been a reliable indicator of danger throughout the trip and yet never had he been so rough with the Outlaws who tried to sooth him. If Lunk wasn’t accepting the group’s help, Ember new something must be incredibly wrong.

   Just for a second Ember thought she had seen the snow flicker as if it were not actually there. Shaking her head she tried not to let her eyes play tricks on her but then it happened again, the entire scene around her seeming to flash out of then into reality in quick succession. It was then that she realised it wasn’t the snow.

   It was a shadow.

   Looking up she saw a massive indistinguishable shape zip across the tips of the peaks which created the bottle-neck, then again, and again.

   ‘Look!’ she shouted and pointed upward, at which point the shape stopped and latched onto the right hand cliff wall. ‘What is it?’ she said.

   Peering up they all watched as it began descending the side of the cliff, interested in the writhing shape that was covering hundreds of meters so quickly.

   Lunk let out a distressed groan and at the same moment Elder realised what it was. ‘Get your skis on.’ he said with a tone of contained urgency, ‘Now!’

   ‘Why should I…?’ Bracer began his insult but was cut off by Elder’s stare and short phrase.

   ‘Because that’s a glace dragon.’

   Bracer was in his skis in a flash and Ember, though she didn’t know what a glace dragon was, could tell the situation was urgent and quickly donned her own.

    Just as they set off down the bottle neck the ground exploded about twenty meters to their right, a spear of ice thrice the height and breadth of Tauro embedded deep in the snow like a lance. Ember was shook to her very core and cold fear rose in her heart so quickly that she never seemed to stop pushing herself forth with those poles of hers, her only thought being to escape the great beast behind her.

   Throwing a momentary glance over her shoulder she saw all she needed to see as the thing dropped from the cliff wall to pulverise the untouched snow with massive clawed feet. It was the largest being she had ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on, easily the size of a small mountain itself, its massive wings grazing the sides of the bottle-neck which was almost half a mile wide itself and its monstrous head the size of a giant’s cooking pot (pretty much the height and width of four houses stacked two on two, in case you’ve never met a giant or seen his cooking pot). Its entire body was a shade of light blue which - twinned with the multitude of spines which cloaked the monster’s back and sides - appeared to fluctuate into darker and lighter colours and its gossamer, hole-spattered wings resembled hectic spider webs as the veins and arteries crisscrossed its thin membranes. Its claws were the size of five Lunk’s and they scraped deafeningly on the rock beneath the snow like nails on a blackboard so that the snow shook beneath Ember’s feet. An almighty muscular tail tipped with a huge spike swung behind its enormous body, and it flicked every now and then, crashing into the walls and ripping through them like a knife through water, tearing almighty hunks of rock out with ease. Around its neck thousands of those ice lances rattled against one another, ready to be fired, one of the most formidable weapons it possessed, and second only to the cold white light brewing in its open mouth. Behind the rotating rows of countless snarling, razor teeth which filled its mouth all the way to the back of its gaping maw there glowed an intensely white light which grew and grew in its wholesomeness so that it was almost blinding. And finally there were the cold, murderous, hungry eyes at least seven feet wide set deep below scaly, bony ridges. That sight set Ember’s skin crawling and her brain to self-preservation in a moment. That sight scared the living daylights from her and for the first time on the trip, she wished she had stayed in Dutton – homely, warm, boring, dragon-free Dutton.

   Digging her poles deep into the snow she threw herself forward like a mad person, sending herself and all her cargo flying over the snow like a lightning bolt so that her hair whipped violently back from her face and the grumble of the dragon became all too loud in her ears, undermining even the rushing wind which howled past her ears.

   Though she couldn’t see it behind her the behemoth bounded forward, its great feet churning up huge patches of the smooth untouched snow industrially well, though it was hindered immensely by the rugged, almost fortified-looking tor cliffs. Each time it tried to snap at one of its miniscule victims, the great beast had to lunge and throw its head forward but was pulled back by its wings snagging on the rocky walls.

   Unfortunately though the bottle neck soon opened out onto a broad sweeping stretch which swirled round the corner of a  cloud-stroking pinnacle in a downward spiral, the right hand-side rocky and blurred as they whizzed past, the left open, clear blue sky as the snow just dropped into nothingness. And this put the dragon at an extreme advantage.

   Momentarily Ember lost sight of it as it came out of the – for it confined – space and stretched its wings, as even from behind it seemed to impede her vision, and her heart skipped a beat, every part of her being and indeed her soul, wishing that the dragon had receded or become trapped. Moving so fast she was virtually humming down the long sweeping curve she spared a one-eighty degree sweep of her head and couldn’t see anything besides snow and sky and she almost choked on her relief.

   However, the chase was not over and all Ember’s relief crumbled about her as a massive earth-rumbling roar rattled through the peaks, shifting the snow beneath her, and a gargantuan wing was thrust up into her right hand vision, a great leathery curtain which blocked out the sun and threw her into perpetual shadow, each of the elbow joints in the arm - of which there were several whereas Ember had been expecting only one - tipped with a fierce hooked claw.

   The snowy slope soon straightened out into a mighty sloping stretch spanning across the sides of many mountains, the rocks atop which rocked precariously purely from the great flaps of the gargantuan reptile’s wings. Due to Ember’s light elven build she quickly joined RiffRaff at the front of the pack and tried not to look as the huge maw came awfully close to the ridge whilst the flaps of the beast whipped the snow up into their faces.

   Meanwhile behind her, in spite of their situation, the fight had broken out again.

   ‘YOU WANT A FIGHT?!’ Elder howled to Bracer, ‘FIGHT THAT BUGGER!’


   ‘BOYS!’ Serena broke in, her voice surprisingly loud in Ember’s ears despite the rushing wind and reasonable distance between them, ‘IF YOU DON’T STOP FIGHTING I’M NOT BOTHERED WHO STARTED IT I’LL FINISH IT!’

   For the second time in several minutes Serena’s icy stare silenced Bracer from letting slip a bout of sarcasm before everyone’s attention was drawn to the dragon as its mane of icy lances rattled threateningly round its thick neck.

   Abruptly five of them shot from its frill and hissed through the air, whirring around the three teenagers like an angry swarm. Two thudded deep into the snow and Ember dodged them closely, impressing even herself with the skiing skills she never knew she possessed. As those hit the floor however, the remaining three shattered as they smashed into the mountainside to their right them, the shrapnel blowing into their path to tear their clothes and open cuts on their skin that were stung painfully by the chill wind.


   ‘GOTCHA!’ Serena bellowed, pushing herself further through Ember’s snow-spray and tying herself to Ember’s backpack with a short length of sturdy rope, before turning on her skis and drawing her bow.

   Arrow after arrow glanced from its rock-like armour but the odd one managed to infiltrate the cracks between the bony plates. However, the one that really annoyed it was the one which thudded into the soft area just around its right eye. Now it wasn’t hungry; now it was wrathful.

   In a moment it had opened its maw wide and sent a massive icy cloud over its rotating teeth at the fleeing dots. Snow and ice and cold whirled about Ember like a storm, tiny shards of glassy ice scratching viciously at her face, and she screamed when the snow in front of her was transformed into a deadly ice rink seemingly by magic as the freezing breath froze it over.

   Hitting the blue ice her skis shot in opposite directions and it took all her strength to gather them together again, the flooring beneath her trying its damndest to throw her over the edge. The ice stretched on for half a mile, but once she had gathered herself she could go dead straight with little bother, her speed increasing all the time. Turning carefully she tapped on Serena’s shoulder who was still firing at the brute which in turn was turning ever more snow into slick ice and the mountainside into a reflective frosty wall.

   ‘That’s not doing anything!’ she shouted, her voice hoarse from screaming and shouting but able to be heard by the elf.

   ‘What do you suppose I do then?’ came the puffed reply.

   Ember pointed in front of them - her finger shivering violently - about a mile, though it was getting closer by the second thanks to their blurring speed. Up ahead upon the crest of a mountain was a huge overhang formed over the millennia atop which a great drift had formed. Serena nodded and, untying herself, carefully slid over to Elder who nodded also as Ember watched Serena indicate the drift.

   The magician, whose poles like everyone else were wrapped round his wrists with a loop of cord, raised his hands so they were palm-to-palm, his poles blowing in the wind, and uttered an incomprehensible spell, whipped away from Ember on the wind. As she watched, her gaze constantly swapping from him to where she was headed to him again, he raised his hands slowly and after what seemed an eternity finally shouted something she couldn’t hear and parted his hands, pushing the left one directly towards the overhang.

   It was then that one of the most spectacular things Ember had ever seen happened. From his left palm, sections of his tattoos glowing a deep red, a lance of fire erupted. Twirling as it hummed up at astonishing speed towards its target it refined itself in correlation with Elder’s tattoos; the bolt of continuous flame thinned and became more intense as the tattoos flowed from an orangey red to a shade of red so deep it was almost purple. The flames lit up the scene with the warm glow of a log fire in winter and the icy walls and flooring reflected the miraculous sight a million times over so that – from a distance – it could have looked as if the sun had fallen into the Mylerens.

   The blazing light flew so high Ember only knew it had struck the rocks from the explosion of light as contact was made and the ominous rumble from high above her head.

   Scared to raise her head but way too curious not too she could only watch on in terror and awe as the overhang cracked, broke and finally tumbled down the cliff backed by countless thousands of tons of snow as a massive avalanche was set into motion. The dragon, seemingly oblivious to the danger thundering down the side of the mountain, flew forwards and opened its mouth wide to blow another mighty freezing gale, but turned as soon as its heartless eyes spotted the impeding avalanche rumbling its way. Instead of freezing the slope its first instinct surprisingly saved the Outlaws’ lives.

   Just as the avalanche made contact to the slope, the dragon sent a huge blast of icy wind at it, the snow freezing solid in an instant, locking the boulder in place and forming a rising wall as the dragon tried to stop the snow which was pouring relentlessly over the initial wall it had unwittingly created. Like a river bursting its banks the snow continued to pour over and the dragon could do nothing but continue to howl out its icy breath. The weight of the snow forced the icy winds downwards, crushing them through an ever smaller gap and then allowing them out beneath the already frozen snow, so that the winds managed to freeze the inside into a thick icy wall, forming an escape tunnel from both the dragon and the avalanche. Gratefully the Outlaws zipped through this and watched as the monster hovered in mid-air fighting a losing battle as the snow continued to tumble down the side.

   Not a moment after Lunk - the last of the group - had slid through the tunnel, the weight of the snow proved too much for the icy inner walls and it collapsed violently, slabs of solid ice crashing down to be buried by thousands of tons of rumbling snow, which in turn thundered over the edge and smashed with such force into the hovering dragon that on wing was snapped with the sickening crunch of bones crumbling in the skin. Finally, with a pain-filled cry the dragon was pushed down the mountain by the snow which proved too much for it.

   As soon as the avalanche had settled, the eight of them gingerly returned to the messy site and peered over the edge of the slope to the rocky floor below. And there, far, far beneath them and all but covered in heaps of snow lay the dragon, one wing sticking up through the snow, its neck and its head being the only three things visible; the neck was snapped at a sickening angle and the many ice lances either pierced into its skin or had shattered about it, having been ripped out.

   Bracer chuckled. ‘I’ve heard of fighting fire with fire, but fighting ice with snow? It just doesn’t sound normal.’

   And despite themselves, the congregation started out with a stifled chuckle, then a giggle, then a laugh before they were all eight of them rolling around in fits of laughter.




   It was around noon and after the dragon they had made good progress down the mountain on their skis. Everyone’s spirits were, oddly, higher since their brush with death and though they wouldn’t have admitted it, Bracer and Elder were feeling much better towards each other; well, Elder might have admitted it, but Bracer, no chance.

   Every half an hour they would stop for a break and within two hours they had dropped through the topmost clouds and a broad expanse of white ocean flowed peacefully, calmingly out before them. It was as they were stopping for a break to eat and admire this gorgeous natural spectacle, with several cloudbirds skimming the fluffy waves, that they heard voices approaching from behind.

   Drawing their weapons they prepared for any unwanted visitors, but quickly sheathed them as a small party of elves appeared around one of the enormous rocky outcrops that were common in these craggy mountains. Each held a crossbow and wore leather garments rimmed with puffy woollen stuffing to keep them warm in the high altitude, though one had the left arm on his jacket cut to the elbow to show a multitude of equally complicated tattoos as Elder harboured on his own left arm. All in all there were six of them and they were shocked to find anyone else this high up in the mountains, especially as well equipped as the Outlaws, for they too had skis but they were strapped to their own backpacks.

   ‘What are you doing so high up friends?’ said one, a rugged but charming faced elf who appeared to be the leader.

   ‘Actually we’re trying to reach the bottom.’ Elder said standing up, ‘apparently there is a city at the base and we’re trying to reach it.’

   ‘I’ll bet there is a city, we’re returning to it after our hunting trip.’ He held up a dead alpine wolpertinger - which differed from its forest cousins only by it sharp horns instead of antlers and white fur - and nodded to the others who were carrying plenty more in the bulging satchels strung over their shoulders.

   ‘Well, we can travel together I suppose?’ Elder said.

   ‘Of course we can, after all there’s safety in numbers up in these peaks.’

   ‘Don’t we know it.’ Bracer muttered to Ember and she chuckled.

   ‘Anyhow, what’s your name friend?’ the rugged one asked.

   ‘I’m Elder, this is Bracer, Serena, Tauro, Riff, Raff, Ember and the big guy there is Lunk.’

   ‘Well you got the big bit right pal; that’s the biggest buggane I’ve ever seen! Anyhow, me name’s Keirlan, this here’s Borac-jar, Edgar, Esquin, Felrit and the magician there is Jarlon. Back home we’re known as the Hunters.’

     The two party leaders shook hands and all fourteen travellers set off down the slope before them, too shallow to ski down and getting ever closer to their urban destination.




      The two groups got on amiably together as they descended at a lively pace, the only clue they had ever been in the mountains being the strip of footprints trailing them. RiffRaff and Ember were getting on amiably with Felrit, a quivering young boy around their age, who had only been with the Hunters several weeks and who was finding the close encounters a little tough. He wore, like his comrades, leather clothing with woollen insulation and his crossbow was hung at an odd angle onto his back, attached to his skis.

   Meanwhile Elder and Keirlan were up front chatting away about their separate situations and Serena was walking with Lunk and chatting to Jarlon - a tall charming elf - who had an apparent interest in archery but also was reportedly very good at hand-to-hand. He was also the group’s magician. Tauro and Edgar had become strong friends even in the short hour they had been walking, the elf being well built and more favourable to a bit of hand-to-hand combat than long range crossbows, but up here he said there was no point because any prey was way too fast for an axe swing.

   Finally trailing behind the pack, Bracer, Borac-jar and Esquin all were chatting with one another, the two stocky elves finding they had a lot more in common with Bracer than they had ever thought they could with another species.

   ‘So then,’ Ember asked Felrit, ‘do you think you’ll stick at this?’

   ‘I dunno,’ came the wary reply, ‘I mean I like it an’all it’s just I feel as if I should be doing something more than just hunting. There is evil out there, everyone knows it, and I’m just sat here.’

   ‘You don’t look like the fighting type.’ Riff commented.

   ‘No offence meant.’ Raff added.

   ‘I know, but I’m good with a set of swords despite what you think. I just think there’s more to do than this. It’s probably silly of me, but then all of us think we’re wasted on this job. Keirlan gets really mad after several trips up here; he says its desolate and not deserving of what we can do; we’re some of the best fighters in all of Dembria and we’re put on hunting duties.’

   ‘He leads you I take it?’ Raff again.

   ‘Yeah. He’s been a real help to me this past few weeks. He’s like a father to all of us – even Borac-jar and Esquin who aren’t really the most… team-playing of types look up to him.’

   ‘We’ve got one like that.’ Ember scoffed, eyeing Bracer.

   ‘I’ve got to say though,’ Felrit continued, seeing you girls like this, and after what you told me about the dragon and what you’re setting out to do, it really has helped my confidence. I’m glad to know there’s people like me who aren’t used to this – like you Ember.’

   Ember blushed.

   Meanwhile up front Elder had just finished explaining why they were in the mountains, and what their mission was, to Keirlan who was astounded. ‘I tell you friend, I never thought I’d hear the name Conspene in this day and age. And that you’ve met one, well. Plus it sounds like you’re not alone trying to get at this Delvar guy.’

   ‘I’ll give you that, but our numbers are pitifully low. I only know of another fifteen groups like us, some of them twos and threes, who are in on the fight. And the cities just won’t listen. Still, as that wizard said, if the villages are being cut off from them, that might jump start them into action.’

   ‘Our city maybe,’ Keirlan said gravely, ‘Grondon is the heart of Dembria - which you technically entered a few miles back - but the other countries I’m not so sure will listen. After all, like your visitor said they’d rather pretend Delvar doesn’t exist for a small sum of money than go up against the power he ties them all up with.’

   ‘I’d not thought of it that way.’

   ‘Still, you’ll have Dembria at your back – I’m certain of it. Dembria is – if I say so myself – probably one of the most patriotic countries besides Ember’s Amantrei in all of Theldar and I know for a fact our citizens won’t stand by and watch as our world falls into the hands of a madman.  I’m sure there are other folks who’ll fight too, even if their cities and countries won’t.’

   ‘I suppose.’

   ‘And don’t worry about King Heller; we’ll get you to him by tomorrow noon. After all, he’ll pay heed to us since we’re the royal hunters. Once he hears what you have to say I am positive that you will have the raw power of Dembria at your backs as you go into this war my friend.’

   ‘I thank you friend, though I don’t envy your position – I’d rather have my freedom than a title any day.’ Keirlan smiled.

   It took them another hour to descend below the clouds which parted to lay out the beautiful, broad expanse of Theldar before them. Meanwhile, below them situated in a large hollow carved from the mountain and sat on a high hill the huge citadel of Grondon bustled in the mid-afternoon sun, a great defensive wall surrounding its houses and inns and many other buildings whilst another mighty wall surrounded a huge castle, its structure made up of battlements and arrow slits and burning braziers and rock slabs. Another hour and they reached the base and from there it was only a short walk along an easy dust road to the gates which were promptly opened for the Hunters and their friends.

   The hour was drawing late and the sun was dipping as they passed under the outer wall so the Hunters escorted their new friends to one of the best inns in the city - their lodgings on the house because the owner knew the hunting party well - and left them to a jolly night to sample both the pubs round about and the city’s beers too - both imported and home-brewed.

   Ember would have said it was well into the eleventh hour after noon when she and her comrades retired to their rooms, the girls in one, the boys in the other, Lunk preferring the stables. And she would have said too that she was asleep and dreaming before her head hit the pillow.

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