Year 250: Just outside of the Newhope colony
“We are going to freeze to death before you fix that.” said Brynor.
He tried to bundle his cloak more tightly around himself. The snow was assaulting the travelers in sheets. Brynor’s hands were frozen to the point where he no longer had the dexterity to pull a drawstring, nor gather up the hem of his cloak. His futile attempt at stopping the cold made him look all the more miserable.
“After all we’ve been through, and after we have come so far, we are going to freeze.” he muttered through clenched teeth.
“No we aren’t. We just need to get the wagon wheel fixed and we’ll be back to Newhope by sundown” said Norel, Brynor’s brother, squinting and stopping to brush the snow off his face as he pried the broken wheel off the wagon’s frame.
“But you have to agree that we are cursed with a run of bad luck.” said Brynor, “We spent almost all of our money to pay for a spot on the boat to leave Aldoria. We braved the winds and the waves of the ocean only to finally arrive on Mardrun in the heart of a blizzard. And now, here we are on the side of the road with a broken wheel and our only form of income being the hope of selling a load of supplies that are stuck in the snow.” said Brynor as he stood there, uselessly watching Norel struggle with the wheel.
“Why don’t you shut up and actually make yourself useful and help me fix this damn wheel. You’re just standing there like an oaf!” snapped Norel.
“Quiet! Both of you!” hissed Gainen, their escort and the closest thing to a bodyguard that they had.
Gainen had been hired to tag along with the two brothers for a cut of their sales once they arrived at Newhope. He was no professional mercenary or soldier, but he was handy with a sword. Like many of the refugees from Faedrun, he was lucky to have arrived with the coat on his back.
Brynor opened his mouth to say something, but fell silent as Gainen’s blade cleared its scabbard. Judging by his posture and intense focus on the road in front of him, something was out there, just out of sight, obscured in the thick falling snow. For what seemed like an eternity, all three of them stood completely still. Nothing came into view and the only noise was the howling of the wind. The wind died down, and the world was silent save the gentle patter of falling snow. No one moved. Each man held his breath.
Through the snow came the distinct creak of a drawn bow and the whistling release of an arrow. Gainen recognized the noise and tried to duck out of the way, but he was too late. The arrow sunk almost fletching deep below his left hip, punching through the long leather jerkin he wore beneath his cloak. With a startled cry, Gainen collapsed to the ground on the path. He struggled to rise, but a second arrow snapped through the air and buried itself deep into his right thigh. Gritting his teeth, Gainen tried to claw his way back to the wagon while still clutching his sword out in front of him in a feeble attempt to shield himself. Brynor and Norel stood dumbfounded with terror, unable to move as the events unfolded in front of them.
The dark shapes of three Mordok emerged from the path and stepped close enough to be seen through the driving snow. With their hideous bestial faces, filthy rags, and blood caked furs, they seemed to melt forth from the whirling whiteout like monsters out of a nightmare. Their crude armor was adorned with trinkets and trophies. One of them had a severed human hand nailed to its shield. The world was silent save the falling snow and the ragged breath of Gainen as he lie bleeding in the snow. Two of the skulking forms moved quickly towards the wounded guard to take advantage of his crippled state and the third Mordok knocked another arrow. The archer took its time, pulled back the bow, and sighted in on Brynor. Finally snapping out of his stupor, the merchant back peddled and tried to run. He’d complained about freezing before, but that now he really was about to die, that whole tiff with his brother seemed rather juvenile.
The Mordok archer suddenly jolted to the side as a thrown javelin sank into its shoulder. The impact jarred its hands and the arrow whistled out of the bow, wildly off target. Before the archer had time to recover, another dark shape moved in close. Steel flashed against the whiteness and an axe head buried itself haft deep into the sternum of the Mordok. The sickening crunch of its rib cage collapsing echoed through the stillness. The Mordok archer let out a rattling cry that ended in a wet gurgle as hot steaming blood gushed from its thorasic cavity and into its upper airway. The monster’s fall was muffled by the deep snow. The axe wielder stepped on the corpse and rocked the head of his weapon free of the Mordok’s chest with a wet crunch.
The two remaining Mordok roared and turned to meet the new threat. As they charged in, the dark shape moved to meet them and was now visible, clad in brown armor, a full helm, mail of steel, and furs. He carried a shield with white tribal markings on it. From behind the figure came several more dark shapes in armor and the two sides crashed head on. Axes and swords flashed through the air, cleaving into armor, furs, and the flesh of both sides. Spear tips darted out at range. One of the armor clad figures pushed a Mordok to the ground and slit its throat with a dagger, but not before the Mordok used a wicked looking knife to slice his opponent’s arm open. Another Mordok was taken apart by numerous strikes and a stab to the stomach. It slowly slumped to the ground as the spear was twisted free. The encounter was quick, bloody, and brutally quiet, but all three Mordok were dead.
Still awestruck by the violence they had just witnessed, Brynor and Norel could do nothing but stare. These strangers, these warriors, had come to their rescue and saved them from a horrible fate at the hands of the Mordok… monsters that eat the flesh of the living and boil the people they kill down to bones.
Brynor, who had taken up a hiding spot behind the wagon with Norel after the archer’s shot missed, smiled and ran forward to greet their saviors.
“Praise the gods, I can’t believe it! You saved our lives! I can’t thank you enough for…”
“Brynor! No! Get back!” yelled Gainen through gritted teeth, still on the ground holding his wounded legs as blood pooled in the snow beneath him.
It wasn’t Gainen’s warning that made Brynor stop dead in his tracks. It was what he saw when he got close enough to the figure clad in the blood spattered armor. Instead of the Newhope guard that Brynor had expected, a man with piercing yellow eyes stood before him. The intensity of those eyes chilled Brynor far more than the snow and freezing wind that whipped his cloak around him. The man’s lips curled back to show enlarged and feral canine fangs. Not a single word was spoken, but Brynor felt as if the man before him were sizing him up and was debating on how he wanted to kill him. They would all die here, on the path, ripped limb from limb by those who could kill even the monstrous Mordok. Brynor held his breath and waited for his fate to be decided.
After what seemed like an eternity, the armor clad figure grunted a signal to those behind him and pushed passed Brynor. There were eight other warriors total, both male and female. Four of them pulled on a rope connected to two makeshift sleds formed from tree branches. On each sled lay the motionless shape of a warrior. Their flesh was pale, and the snow that fell upon their faces did not melt. One of the walking warriors who was not dragging a corpse, a female archer with a wounded arm, walked close to Gainen, dropped a couple bandages near him, and continued to walk on. The warriors continued along the path until the driving snow seemed to consume them.
With renewed vigor, Norel fixed the wagon. Brynor helped apply the bandages to Gainen’s legs and moved him into the back of the cart, where he passed out from pain and blood loss. He was in bad shape, but if they could find a healer soon, he might live. Darkness was setting in. They pushed the cart on the trail with haste and continued towards Newhope, the bodies of the Mordok already beginning to be covered by the falling snow. They continued on for almost a mile before either one of them spoke.
“Who… what were those?” said Brynor meekly, finally breaking the silence.
“I don’t know. The guards at the port told us about the Mordok, but nobody said anything else. I heard rumors of another colony here on Mardrun, but those things… they weren’t human. Did you see their eyes? Their fangs? I would never believe it unless I saw it tonight here with you, but those warriors were…” said Norel, who paused as their wagon wheel hit an unexpected bump in the center of the road and jolted to a stop.
The wheel had hit the side of a mound in their path. As Norel and Brynor looked down to see what it was, they noticed that there were more mounds in the road. Uneven lumps in the snow, scattered about… human shaped lumps. On the trail before them were ten bodies almost completely covered in snow. The wheel of the cart had brushed the snow off of the closest corpse, revealing a human in bloody armor and a tabard. The insignia on the corpse was that of the guards of Newhope.
“…demons…” finished Norel with a broken and shaky voice. Brynor and Norel dislodged the cart from the corpse and ran as fast as they could towards the gates of Newhope.