Rae ab Rathan shivered in the wind, drawing her cloak about her and wishing she could block out the sight before her that easily. Tantra was on fire, the flames turning the sky a ruddy orange, which gradually melded to purple and the dark blue of the night sky. A trail of grey smoke obscured the stars, and tendrils of fog rose from the river. Besides the flickering flames and the smoke, the night was filled with an eerie stillness. Her mount, firefly, gave a soft whicker and skittered, leaving hoof prints in the snow.
"Shssh boy," she murmured, stroking the pony's neck.
"Your orders?" Koen asked, reigning in his stubby northland pony beside hers.
"Take another eight men and we'll go see if there are any survivors. It looks like we've less time than we original thought, I doubt this is coincidence." Koen nodded and she paused, pursing her lips and frowning before continuing. "I don't like this fog," she murmured. "It should be too far south for Icekin but… have the rest of the men wait on the other side of the river, ready to ride for Tiros on signal. Tells them if there's the slightest sign of trouble their to retreat. No heroics tonight."
"Sound advice, " Koen murmured with a slight grin to his superior. He wheeled his mount and rode back to the rest of the small company.
Koen returned quickly with eight other men, and all ten of them advanced cautiously, keeping their horses to a walk as they advanced across the field that lay between them and the village. Their horses snorted anxiously and pawed the ground whenever they stopped. Entering the village was like stepping into another world, a world devoid of life. The sound of horses' hooves on the packed snow cracked like a thunderclap as they pressed forward surveying the horrid scene around them. It was slaughter, there was no other word for it, nothing moved. The mist thickened, tendrils winding amidst the burnt out buildings, the cold touch brushing the dead bodies. Rae shivered in disgust as they passed the body of a little boy, her face hardening. She turned her head, cursing as she realised the field was practically invisible in the midst.
"We'll find no survivors here. The Foxears clan did their work all to well." Koen said, his voice soft.
"Damn them!" Rae spat, surveying the carnage, her eyes, a strange double ringed mixture of blue and violet, burned with rage. Koen blinked at the ferocity in her voice, she was usually calm.
As quickly as the outburst had come, it passed and Rae's voice was cool again as she spoke
"I mislike the feel of this, we'll need a meeting of the clans, as soon as possible.
"What about the Dragonkin?" Koen asked
"I think we might want to extend an invitation to them too," Rae said slowly. "They have a right to know after all. We'd better move for now though, the mist…"
"Aye," Koen nodded, waving a hand for the men to move out.
'If we ride hard we can make Tiros by morning, and alert the to what has occurred, then we can call the clan meet, and I'll take a few men and travel back to the Dragonkin cities in the mountains.' Rae thought, as they rode out of the village. Suddenly a scream tore the air, drifting northwards on the wind.
"The others," Koen groaned.
"Icekin," Rae bit down on her lip "Damnit!" She wheeled her pony and retrieved a burning piece of timber from one of the wrecked houses. Many of the men, sought their own brands. They'd barely collected some before she was off, spurring her pony in the direction of the sounds and quickly taking the lead
The mist closed in around her and she realised she'd outdistanced Koen and the others, laving them too far behind. 'Damnit Rae, too fast, too rash. Especially in this mist' She whispered a silent prayer to the goddess Laisha. It was impossible to see anything in this mist. 'But you can listen' she thought to herself, straining to hear anything. Sound was muffled in the mist but she could the screams away to her right, and the sound of the river rushing by. She turned firefly towards it and set him walking, resisting the urge to charge on at a gallop. It would do no good to ride straight into something and break her neck; she'd been going far to fast to begin with.
She rode towards the river with agonising slowness, firefly picking his way carefully across near invisible ground. Each time her mount stumbled, each time the gelding spooked at something in the fog she felt her heart pound against her ribs, and her mouth was dry with the wary fear of seeing some creature surge forth from the vaporous wall that seemed to surround her.
She heard the splash as Firefly stepped into the river and urged him on as he skittered, surprised at the change of ground. He regained his footing and began to pick his way across the stones and wade across. She held the brand she carried up high, shedding some, but little light on the river as it swirled by, it's waters black and foreboding in the poor light. In the distance she thought she could see shadows of the battle in the fog, but it could have been her imagination if not for the screams. Firefly stumbled forwards, and she gasped as he lost his footing sending them both plunging into the water. He whinnied in fright, treading water and pushing forwards, struggling to gain some fitting as the ice-cold water swept them along. He gained a hold on the rock and lurched upwards, nearly throwing Rae from the saddle as he did so.
She gripped hard with her knees, giving him as much free reign as possible and holding on to the pommel. He bounded forwards and struggled onto the bank, shivering. Rae sighed in relief and hoisted the brand again, shivering in the wind. She urged her mount towards the sounds of battle, going as fast as she dared. "RETREAT!" She yelled "Ride for Tiros!" She knew from experience and study that fighting Icekin was bloody hopeless in a situation such as this. Though clan Ravenwing was not one of the clans which suffered their raids every, they knew of the Icekin and had faced them across the battlefield before.
The blow came from behind and sent her tumbling from her saddle. She hit the ground hard. Pain exploded in her chest., the burning bland rolling away from her. Her ears rang. She sprung to her feet. Dizzy. Just in time to duck the swing of a massive club made of ice. She swung upwards as the giant aimed for another blow. Her sword rebounded harmlessly off ice, sending up shards.
She only just managed to dodge the second blow, "horseshit!" she cried, jumping out of the way again. She swung again harder, managed to break off one of the icy spikes protruding from the creature's body, to little affect. The Icekin giant towered above her, spikes protruding from it, it's whole body formed from ice and giving off tendrils of fog.
It grabbed for her again and she dodged easily. She lunged for the brand. The Icekin pounced again, picking her up by the chain shirt she wore. She struggled and threw the brand into its face. It gave a howl, and dropped her, clawing at its face as the flames caught and its body began to melt. Rae hit the floor hard, pain shooting through her ribs again and her head striking the ground hard. The creature stumbled off at a shambling run and she lurched to her feet, looking around in the fog.
Her horse was nowhere to be found, but the sound of hooves receding in the distance and the cries of human voices told her that her men, at least, were safe. Her own situation was more precarious, with no fire, no horse and no way of finding her way in the fog. Alone in the fog, she had little to aid her if another beast came upon her. She stumbled on blindly through the snow-covered tundra, whistling for her horse. Each step she took sent pain shooting through her ribs and her head ached abominably.
"Firefly" she whistled. No whicker, no neigh, no sound of hooves on snow, just the impenetrable fog. To her right there was a bellow 'another Icekin' she thought with a moan, as the creature came in to sight, looming ominously in the fog. She backed up a step, the sound of the river beginning to intrude upon her sense 'or is my head'.
She kept retreating unsure if the creature had seen her or not till it turned it's head, bellowed and lumbered forwards. She sped up, at least she had that on her side. She turned and ran on through the snow, stopping when her foot hit rock. 'Too near the river' she thought, she started to draw her sword but never got it out of its sheath. The creature caught up and with one blow sent her flying. She gave a shriek as she landed in the river. The current was strong, and her ribs rebelled as she clawed to keep afloat. She frantically tore off her chain mail, seeking to rid herself of the weight. She kicked desperately as the water sent her tumbling onwards, and gasped as she slammed into a rock beneath the surface.. The sword at her belt began to drag her down into the depths and with great regret and rising panic she threw away sword and hilt. She lost count of how long she struggled to stay afloat, her ribs on fire and her head spinning, Finally she saw a bank through the mist and fought her way to it across the current. She hauled herself onto the snow, shivering with cold, and collapsed. She fought a losing battle for consciousness, knowing it meant death to succumb to sleep here in the cold, then slipped into oblivion.