Trudging through the snow, the ragtag group came to a shivering stop in front of the gleaming white tower. They stood and admired it for a few moments. Its pale walls almost seemed to melt into the mist and the snow in the distance, yet there was an otherworldly glow that set it apart from its surroundings.
“Looks rather phallic for a tower owned by a witch,” said one of the taller bundled silhouettes.
“Now’s not the time for jokes Tomulo,” said the smallest one. He undid his hood for a better look, revealing a small rat face. Another undid their own hood in a similar fashion, this time revealing the head of a young woman who blushed at the comments.
“Well, I believe it looks more like a giant mushroom,” she said defiantly, but it only seemed to inspire a burst of laughter from the silhouette named Tomulo. Even the rat-man had to stifle a laugh.
“The guards’ve noticed us,” said the largest and least covered one; a giant orc wearing only the padded armour he deemed necessary for battle. He seemed to be the only one unflinchingly facing the cold, menacing tower. The other adventurers followed the gesture of his nod to see that two guards armed with crossbows were indeed expectantly aiming in their general direction.
“How are we going to get in?” said the rat-man impatiently.
“Not to worry, I’m sure we’ll think of something Krisa. There’s only two of them,” replied Tomulo, now feeling enough at ease with the cold to lift his flamboyant cavalier hat to scratch behind a pointed ear.
As the guards became more visibly agitated, only the orc answered.
“We can throw you over the gate.”
“Who, me? And alert every armed being in the establishment?! I’ll be dead before you can even get inside,” Krisa said with an irritated twitch of his whiskers.
“It’ll be faster than breaking down the ice in front of the gate just to break down the gate,” the orc replied matter-of-factly with a shrug. The ice in question reflected the bright rays of the sun, but of course showed no signs on melting.
“I’ll take out the guards with my father’s longbow!” the young woman chimed in, clutching her bow at the ready. Tomulo simply gave a look that was defeated and puzzled at the same time.
“I was hoping for something a bit more subtle than that…” he said, trailing off. He absentmindedly reached into his pocket for the baubles of alchemist’s fire he kept there. He’d initially bought them in preparation for battle – they were particularly effective against trolls – but he’d mostly been keeping them as sophisticated hand warmers to combat the worsening magical weather. His eyes then suddenly lit up as if struck with an idea. Meanwhile, Krisa had only to defend himself from further suggestions of being used as a projectile.
“I’m just saying it’d be faster to throw you over the gate!” the orc continued.
“I do not appreciate plans that spell my certain death Pey’tonne, thank you!” the rat replied, and hid behind a nearby large rock in a huff.
“Maybe we could climb?” Pey’tonne questioned further to no-one in particular. He turned to the young woman and decided to press her further since she was the only other member of the group who was a mage, and more likely to know about magical constructions – despite his distaste for magic.
“What’s it made of Chava? Can we climb it?” he asked, now tired of being the only one proposing practical plans. The distant figures of the guards started to fidget more, becoming noticeably agitated.
“It’s certainly made of ice – and not just any ice either. It’s magical… as you’d expect from a witch who’s the source of a giant snowstorm,” replied the young woman. The mere mention of the witch seemed to liven the wind as it toyed with the curls of her tied hair. Upon hearing this, Tomulo sidled over to Krisa’s hiding place behind the large rock.
“How do you feel about your chances of sneaking inside instead of being thrown over the wall?” Tomulo said with a wink.
“I’m not sure. There’s still the matter of breaking through the wall of the tower itself,” Krisa replied testily. Tomulo opened his mouth to reply, but only had time to slip the alchemist’s fire to Krisa before he was interrupted by some shouts from the tower.
“What are you doin’ here?” shouted one of the guards from the left turret. “Either you leave some meat like everyone else, or get out of here!”
The snowy wind sliced icily through the silence among the scheming adventurers. Before anyone could react, Tomulo was already bellowing a response.
“Oh really?” he called out, following up with a nervous laugh. “We’re… lost! I knew the tavern wasn’t this way!” he said with a terrifyingly wide-eyed grin that scared his companions. Luckily the guards were far enough away to perceive this as genuine. The guard on the right tower paused for a moment, then shouted, “Just move along back that way!” pointing in the exact opposite direction of the tower. “Keep walking that way and you can’t miss it. You can tell ’em Serghiev sent you.”
“Will do! I’ll be certain to leave in that very direction now!” Tomulo replied, marching off until he could sneakily zip behind the large rock. By this time Krisa was no longer there, but he could have sworn that he could hear the light crunch of tiny feet on snow somewhere in the distance.
“Tommy! What’s going on? Where did you go?” Chava said, calling after him. She looked at Pey’tonne, but he just shook his head.
“Looks like it’s just us now,” Pey’tonne mused.
“Leave now! I already told you where the tavern is!” shouted the guard named Serghiev, growing impatient.
“But we don’t know where he went!” Chava shouted back in irritation. Serghiev’s companion on the opposite side marched off in frustration and disappeared inside the tower.
“Get behind the rock Chava,” said Pey’tonne. He crouched down and put his hands in the snow.
“Why?! He’s being unreasonable. We can’t leave Tommy and Krisa behind.” Before she could say anything else, a large snowball flew out of Pey’tonne’s hands and smacked the shouting guard right in the face.
At the side of the tower, Krisa was steadying his nervous hands to throw the first bauble of alchemist fire. The first hit worked exactly as expected; a burst of magical flame melted a large enough section of the ice wall to create a small alcove that would fit a grown man if he crouched, but it didn’t melt all the way through. He worked quickly to prepare the second bauble, but nearly dropped it when he heard the guards begin firing arrows, presumably the targets of which were his friends. He threw the second with more force than intended, forcing him to duck behind a nearby snowdrift as the flames licked out further and threatened to singe his tail. Once the air had cooled, Krisa scrambled out from his cover and snuck into the tower. Inside it was dimly lit, the wind filtering in through the newly made hole blowing away the musty smell within. Just as he was noting to himself that it was relatively unguarded, the ground started to tremble. He stood dumbstruck for a moment, but when the tower didn’t collapse as expected, he ducked into a nearby staircase. He peered out to the side and saw the giant green feet of a troll thundering slowly towards his previous hiding spot.
“There’s a hole here,” the troll dumbly noted after a few minutes of close inspection. It ambled over to the window that opened out to the turrets where the crossbow armed guards seemed to facing off with troublemakers.
“There’s a hole in the wall!” the troll shouted at them, unconcerned with any other details.
“Not now Bordigga!” hissed Serghiev’s watch partner as he got pelted with several snowballs and an arrow. Taking advantage of the distraction, Krisa scurried up the stairs.
“The levers for the gate must be around here somewhere…” he muttered to himself. As he drew closer to the yelps of a guard being murdered by Chava’s arrows, the footsteps of what could only be reinforcements drew closer to his position. Krisa pressed himself to the wall and cursed under his breath.
“What now…?” he thought to himself. He readied his hands in preparation for a spell, but unbeknownst to him, exactly several meters below his position was the entry tunnel that now contained Tomulo.
Tomulo’s head peered out from the edge of the tunnel. He had heard the commotion from the troll on his approach, and seeing the troll near the tunnel’s exit point had confirmed his fears. He remained in his crouched position at the tunnel’s edge, deliberating what to do next when he also heard the approach of footsteps.
“Damn and hell blast!” he muttered under his breath. He was presented with two choices; retreat completely and risk the hole being blocked up, or singlehandedly face the onslaught of the reinforcements now on their way. A particularly heavy sounding pair of boots with a confident march came to seek him out, leaving him no choice. The owner of that confident march, Sergeant Dulstev, nearly walked right by him until she felt the slight tickle of the cold wind burrowing its way through the tunnel. She turned and was immediately face-to-face with Tomulo.
“Hello! I’m the tower inspector. Looks like you have a hole here,” he said, feigning a concerned face. Unfortunately Dulstev wasn’t one for putting up with nonsense, and simply responded by spearing Tommy in the shoulder with her cold iron sword. Krisa heard the high-pitched shriek from the injury, which he unmistakeably recognised as Tommy’s. Peering over the wall, he could only see Dulstev’s back as she followed Tomulo further into the tunnel as he retreated, with numerous guards pouring out from the stairwell also backing her position.
“Help is on the way Tommy!” Krisa thought to himself, and focused his magical energies into his stomach. First he began with minor coughs, and then progressed into muted sputtering until he opened his mouth into a full-blown wretch. Millions of tiny black spiders emerged in a swarm that escaped from his mouth and crawled downstairs in an inky black living wave of darkness, towards the formation of guards who immediately began to scream in terror as they were covered in thousands of tiny, poisonous bites.
“I hate spiders!” cried Bordigga the troll to no one in particular, in a deep sonorous voice. The guards, who were obviously concerned with more immediate problems, ignored her, so she threw her giant axe at what she thought was the source of the eight-legged scourge. Krisa only had just enough time to dodge so that it only grazed the edge of his tail.
“I hate spiders!” she repeated as her mantra. She climbed and crushed various pieces of furniture as she clawed her way up the high wall that served as Krisa’s cover, trying retrieve her axe. She succeeded just enough to raise her nose above the wall and started trying to sniff out his position with great, gurgling snorts. Krisa scuttled away to safety in the same direction as the spiders, and hid by the staircase once more to avoid the troll’s arms as they blindly swatted at him. Sensing no results, Bordigga abandoned her axe and started clawing her way to the top of the large gate.
At the front of the tower, Chava and Pey’tonne were still hiding behind the large rock. They had succeeded in dispatching with one guard, but Serghiev was still left exchanging fire with them and had proved to be more difficult. Chava had tried taking her chances to scout out a way of finding more cover closer to the gate, but even peering from above the rock had resulted being grazed across her head and shoulders with various arrows.
“How do we get closer? We won’t get anywhere like this!” she said, preparing another arrow. It unsuccessfully pinged off the turret edge in front of Serghiev, who responded with an arrow of his own. Chava just about manage to duck behind the rock in time to avoid an arrow to the eye. Pey’tonne paused meditatively in the middle of his next snowball in reaction to her remark.
“Well don’t just sit there, try something! Anything! Even if it was as futile as pushing this rock!” Chava shouted desperately as another arrow flew overhead. Pey’tonne immediately threw his weight at the unsuspecting rock, but the result was a mind numbing couple of inches in progress. Chava’s eyes widened in surprise that her whimsical complaint had worked and braced her back against the rock to assist Pey’tonne. To the surprise of them both, the additionally strength nearly sent the rock zooming through the snow like a unwieldy snow plough towards the frozen gates. After several feet of progress, the young archer took a sly shot at the remaining guard from her new vantage point. A loud screech of terror and frustration confirmed the kill.
“Well, now that’s over, how do we get in?” said Chava, eyeing the gleaming wall of ice in front of the gate. Pey’tonne merely picked up the multipurpose rock with both arms and flung it at the ice barrier. It was strong and initially the resulting force caused the rock to bounce back at them, spinning to one side and landing in the snow with a thud. A loud series of cracks soon followed, and the ice crumbled way to reveal the giant set of wooden gates within.
The tower seemed eerily quiet from the front gate except for several loud snorting sounds that came from behind the gate.
“What’s that sound? It sounds like a giant pig,” Chava remarked. The pain from being grazed by several arrows suddenly sunk in. Touching the source of the discomfort, the dampness on her hand confirmed that there was blood. Pey’tonne’s eyes never left the gate. His vigilance was rewarded with a giant nose and pair of claws appearing above the gate. The rest of Bordigga the troll eventually appeared on top of the gate.
“Go rest behind the rock, Chava,” he said, a dark growl forming in his voice. “This one’s mine.”
Chava stumbled her way over to the rock to keep out of the ice troll’s reach, but she could not avoid her notice.
“What are you doing here? I’ll get you!” Bordigga roared, and proceeded to land face first from the gate, where Pey’tonne was ready with his axe.
Meanwhile in the fire-wrought tunnel, Tomulo’s retreat seemed increasingly likely.
“I’m surprised a piss-artist like you could make it this far,” sneered Sgt. Dulstev, closing in on Tomulo with her cold-iron sword again. Tomulo managed to stop clutching his earlier wound to meet her attack with his rapier.
“First I’ll deal with you, and then I shall present your entrails as an offering to the witch.”
“You clearly underestimate. En garde!” he cried, slashing open her side before she could parry him. Dulstev roared in pain, but her aim became increasingly sloppy as the newly made wounds began to bleed. She came in for one heavy lunge, yet it only served to comprise her position as Tomulo sidestepped and allowed her to trip over the power of her own attack.
“Prepare to meet the light at the end of your own tunnel,” he whispered, before driving his rapier through her abdomen for the killing blow.
In the turrets above, Krisa tried to remain hidden, yet he could hear a group of guards thundering down the hallway towards him.
“Curses! I have no time to get to the gate controls now,” he muttered under his breath. “I suppose now would be a good time for casting a spell…”
Calling upon the magical energies he’d begun to muster earlier, a subtle glow flowed out from the tiny hands that he pressed against his chest. The herd of footsteps stumbled to a halt in front of him.
“Wot’s that?” one of the guards said, pointing at Krisa. The rat-man in question tried to pull an especially pathetic face to bolster his spell. The guard couldn’t help but feel both disgusted and pitying at the same time.
“Oh, don’t mind me… I’m just a little lost rat in this big tower,” Krisa whimpered. The guards paused for a moment, unsure why their first instinct wasn’t to kill the sad looking creature.
“We’ll be on our way then,” said another, and they jogged on their way out to the turrets at the front gate.
“Formation! Take aim!” shouted the leading guard, and they lined up side-by-side to take aim at their new target, Pey’tonne Mannig. The fact that he was covered in viscous, blue troll’s blood shook their resolve slightly. Overwhelmed by the heady rage of battle, it was only the clicking of arrows being loaded in to crossbows that distracted Pey’tonne from hacking away at the wooden gate that impeded his entry into the castle.
“Run Pey’tonne! Take cover!” Chava said in a harsh whisper, trying to signal to him. The orc just continued breathing heavily and stared at the gate, as if he were in a world of his own.
The shaking hands let fly several arrows, yet their fear had evidently affected their aim, with all but two of the arrows actually finding their target. The arrows merely bounced off Pey’tonne’s chest and landed in the snow nearby. No damage was evident, and Pey’tonne shrieked and roared across what seemed to be several octaves. The sound seemed to permeate the very ice that made up the tower, echoing in the tunnel that Tomulo emerged from. His eyes met with the guards that had prepared to provide backup to Dulstev.
“Come fight me like men! What are you waiting for?” Tomulo taunted. The guards, hair standing on end from the noises of the beast at the front gate, let fly a single arrow that grazed the very edge of Tommy’s shoulder. Tomulo turned to inspect the minor cut, and frowned.
“Are you toying with me? Is that all?!” he said before rushing in and stabbing two of the guards.
“This isn’t target practice!” cried Tomulo, slashing at the guard with the crossbow. Finding himself surrounded only by bodies in the courtyard, he rushed up the staircase to catch up with other guards who had attempted to flee.
“Tommy, is that you?” Krisa shouted as the same guards passed him again, fleeing from the roaring orc. Realising the coast was clear, he marched up to the gate controls and pulled the lever with glee.
“Yes Krisa! It is I!” Tomulo replied, as the fleeing guards nearly piled on top of each other when they tried to stop themselves from crossing his path. A couple of them managed to dodge each other here and there, fleeing into the courtyard and closing the second set of gates behind them.
“W-who are you?” stammered the lonely guard left behind.
“Me? I am many things,” Tomulo said, before abruptly stabbing him.
“But this time I’m the last person you’ll ever see.”
Giddy with the sensation of killing many of one’s enemies, Tomulo rushed into the courtyard where Krisa, and Pey’tonne and Chava were closing in on a sleeping guard.
“I put him to sleep, now finish him Pey’tonne!” Krisa shouted with glee. Pey’tonne raised his axe, panting heavily with rage, when Tomulo rushed in and speared the guard with his rapier. There was a moment of silence as the group eyed Tommy.
“What? He shouldn’t have been sleeping on the job,” Tommy sighed with a shrug.