Cold Hearts

The camp is infiltrated.

Userpedia; the informal community where people gathered together as friends. They had had to relocate from the burning lands of Scribbalon, but they never thought that the frozen lands of... Freezy Cold Land (the person who makes names for the cartographer is on vacation) would contain them, as they pushed ever onward, as the sunlight provided what little warmth it could as they trudged on through the snowy mountains.

A lot of the Userpedians in the group were not prepared for such weather, and so progress was slow-going. But they kept pushing forward, ever hopeful that the snowfall and the terrible wind might stop. Alas, it was simply wishful thinking.

It had seemed the humans had been here recently, and were still alive. Their trails were all over this clearing, as well as some hastily left-behind items. He estimated that they wouldn't be far from here, if he was fast.

He wondered why his tribe leader was so intent on his retrieving what important info these humans possessed... these humans who seemed to fashion themselves “Userpedians”, whatever that word meant. But it was his duty to retrieve this information, come hell or high water. He thought to himself grimly, “even if that means I freeze to death getting the information back to them.”

He trudged onward.

Ruby and Valentin lead the marching group on a descent from a particularly steep mountain. It was slow going while everybody tried to keep a firm footing on the ground and carry their supplies at the same time. It wasn't too successful, and a few simply tumbled down into the valley below, at the foot of the mountain. Ruby sighed. He looked at the sun, trying to determine how much time had passed, and glanced over his shoulder at the Userpedians struggling with the slope.

He called out, “Let’s make for that valley and setup camp.”

About half an hour later, Userpedians were eating, drinking, replenishing their energies. As they relaxed (sort of), the Heroes and Defenders separated from the main camp, and began to talk stories.

The man in the black robe, hood pulled over his face, essentially ignored the cold wind as he travelled, far away. He had been exiled from the lands to the west, by the King himself. There were people that he would miss, of course, but the land he had left had no worth to him.

He was the King’s bodyguard, a highly regarded honour. At first he was loyal, happy to serve his king for the good of the people. But he soon began to despise how the country was being run, and had openly spoken to the King of his opinion. His undoing had come when he had had enough of the King’s rule, and seeked to destroy him.

He was of course apprehended on the spot, his scythe confiscated and destroyed, and led out to the edge of the kingdom, and thrown out. He was hereby barred from entering the land of the Ares Lid, on pain of death. The guard reading out the notice took great pleasure in reading the king’s threats on what would happen, should the ex-bodyguard return.

And so he ventured forth into the snow, his soul darkened by exile. The snow blew past him, his feet sunk deep into the snow as he ventured ever further.

He decided the king’s threats meant nothing compared to a slow, frozen death.

The creature stood, his vision limited by the snow, as he watched the humans pack their camp. He had covered his fur in snow and so looked almost hidden. He thought to himself why these humans would be trusted with sensitive information; examining them from in his position he thought some of them looked too young. They mustn't have passed the Rituals of Truth, he thought. Well, their human equivalent.

Still, the huge chest that they carried with them... that peaked his interest. Perhaps this is where some of the leaders did hide their precious information...

He made a decision then. He would infiltrate their camp under the cover of darkness. This is how it must be.

“So, you see, because they had accidentally unleashed this power, Userpedia was defenseless, right?” One of the users said, with a wave of his hand. “So they end up having to form a kind of superhero group and work together to be able to...”

The group was indeed chatty, keeping their minds off the weather and their situation. As they moved further north, the air only seemed to grow colder, more violent as it pushed and tossed the drifting snow across the land.

Travelling on smoother slopes now, they travelled faster, pushing onwards. Ruby was tired, but continued to lead. He hoped, for himself and for the sake of the people following him, that they found proper shelter soon.

Guy came up beside him, wrapped up in an extra robe. “Ruby, it seems there’s a rumour circulating around this area. A race of humans acclimated to these mountains reside somewhere in this region. Assuming it is true, we may be able to gather food and supplies from them.”

Ruby nodded, but was skeptical. “I’m not sure this is such a good idea. If we end up running out of supplies because of the thin hope there may be a people that can help us, and there doesn't turn out to be any, we’re screwed. But if we do manage to run into anyone living here, every little bit helps.”

He sighed. “We’re consuming a lot more food and drink each day, just because of this place. I do hope that you’re right. But...” Ruby frowned, trying to put what he wanted to say into words. “I... don’t think that we should bet our lives on it yet.”

Guy nodded, thinking. “I think it may be best if we aim to conserve supplies, even if we aren't in these damned mountains. There still might not be a society around.”

“Yes... you’re right. Alright. Try and get people to conserve their food supplies. The long we can keep that going, the more chance we have of survival.”

Ruby looked up to the skies. The sun was hidden behind a heavy snow cover. “But... the longer we stay in this frozen hell hole...”

They were met as the darkness fell by a group of bearded, heavily-armored humans, supposedly on patrol. The leader introduced himself as Captain Ironhammer.

“I’m, er, Ruby sir, Hero of Userpedia and... Scribbalon refugee. That counts for all of us.”

“Ah!” The Captain grinned, and ordered his men to lower their weapons. “What news of the south?”

“It burns, Captain. We are all cold and low on supplies. We seek to find lands further north where we may resettle.”

“A noble purpose indeed!” He said, scratching his beard. “Our settlement is not far, but you would not get fifty paces in this weather at night!” Ironhammer paused, looking around. “Ah! It’ll be best if your lot set up camp around here. Get yerselves warm. We’ll send some extra supplies to keep you going overnight, and direct you to our home in the mornin’, should yer survive.” The captain lifted his double-bladed axe onto his shoulder, the blade resting against the steel shoulder-plates.

“Thank you, Captain,” Ruby said, happily. “Your service is of utmost help.”

And so camp was set up, and with the help of these snow-dwelling humans extra food and supplies were delivered. The users, much happier, celebrated long into the night, while the Heroes and Defenders feasted in their tent. It was truly a celebration of being alive; a celebration that their quest would continue; a celebration of the continuation of the Userpedian legacy.

A pair of eyes watched them from the snow as the last users retired to their tents, the campfire casting a warm glow. The eyes waited ten minutes. Twenty minutes. After half an hour of no sound from the camp, the large cat-like creature rose from his hiding place in the snow, shivering. He hoped he would never have to be so cold again. Nonetheless, this was his chance, he thought to himself, as he slowly, silently, tread across the snow toward the camp. His vision may have been blinded by the headwrap he wore around his eyes, but he could sense the bodies around the camp as he tread carefully.

There it was. The creature’s vision took in the ornate chest, to one side of the camp. This was his chance to find out what the humans were hiding. He felt for the catches. Flipped them open. He picked out one piece of paper and held it to his eyes.

… He could not read it. However hard he tried, he could not sense what was written upon them. The creature sighed. He began to slip off the headwrap, and try reading it with his own eyes... when another creature stopped him. One of his tribe. He could tell by the scent.

It said, in their native tongue, quietly so as to not wake the humans, “Your tribe has tricked you. These are not documents that would help leverage our power over the humans. These are only stories that the humans have conjured up.”

The first creature cursed, in the same language. “You mean they... you... have lead me on a mission of nothing? What is the meaning of this treachery?!”

“Your tribe tires of you. You are not like us. You are but nothing to us now.”

The first creature snarled. “How dare you say such a thing! In other circumstances I would tear out your rib cage and feed your body to your own children. If there is nothing for us here, we must return quickly to our own--”

The shaman tutted, and raised his staff. “There is no ‘we’ here. The humans will surely slaughter you, and as they do I shall be anywhere but here.”

The blind creature was furious! He spoke violently, in the human tongue. “I shall see you roast in hell for what you've done to me!”

The creature simply smirked. “Goodbye, Aurenn.” He darted off, heading south, directly away from the camp, and was gone before anyone realized.

The remaining creature simply looked down at the document he held in his paw. He wanted to tear it up. He wanted to burn the entire chest! He was so infuriated that--

“Drop it.”

Aurenn froze. He cursed the tribe that led him to his demise. He slowly replaced the story back in the chest, and closed it.

“That’s a very bad habit you have there. I can imagine talking to yourself would be a lot more helpful if you weren't robbing us.”

The creature felt the sharp prick of a sword point against his neck. He was now certain that he was going to die. A fitting end, Aurenn thought to himself.

Valentin kept the sword point level. He was fully dressed in his light blue clothing and seemed to be still awake. He didn't want to let this monster have the chance to destroy them all. He called for Ruby, not daring to move an inch.

Valentin later regretted obeying Ruby’s order to tie the creature up and let him freeze until the morning, but he did as he was told. Resigned to his fate, Aurenn simply did as he was told. He said nothing. His face betrayed nothing.

But in his head, Aurenn simply regretted becoming a part of the tribe that plotted his death.

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