A plan is formed for a journey through the mountains.
A feast! A real, bonafide feast! For the people who had ventured through the snow in a limited supply, the Userpedians (those who wanted to eat) simply devoured anything in sight. Thal, the leader of the snow dweller humans, was amazed, as was Uric Ironhammer, captain of the military division and right-hand man.
Then again, you couldn’t blame them.
Discussion in the great hall where they ate, in the underground city of the Snow Dwellers, was lively. “So I was thinking about this new idea...” “Is this villain overused yet?” “There’s this girl, right?” The users relaxed, and ate, ignoring the freezing weather aboveground.
On the main table, Ruby, Guy, Ji, Valentin and the other Heroes and Defenders joined Thal, Uric and their top men in their own feast, discussing plans. In the middle of the table was a map of the snow mountains and the surrounding areas, with the city marked in a red circle. It was only a fifth of the way through the mountains, which expanded far into the north, yet closer to the east, to the grasslands.
“Assume you left tomorrow morning,” Thal said, pointing at a dotted path on the map leading east. “This path through the mountains has been well-worn, and should provide protection from most of the elements. That is, barring the event of a wall cave-in. You could get to the otherside by sundown.”
Guy looked at the map. “How likely is that?”
Uric took the lead. “Not very, we’ve transported supplies to our contacts via this route many times. Though, we’ve never had to accommodate such a large group.”
Valentin sipped at the goblet of wine provided to each of them. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“Not if you all travel lightly. That might mean leaving us to transport your equipment some other way.”
Ruby glanced up from his meal. “Do tell.”
Thal spoke up again. “We told you that we had a supply route to Scribbalon, yes? There is another route to our outpost in the grasslands. We will show you soon. It only takes a few hours but we must make sure that everything is very, very secure.”
Ji, not having spoken much at all, spoke up. “Only a few hours, you say? You mustn’t have been able to accomplish that using conventional means, then.”
Thal eyed him. “It is enchanted. We fill it up, send it on its way. It follows a rail system so it cannot get lost. Arrives at the other end in perfect condition.”
“That’s amazing. I can’t see why Scribbalon didn’t have this technology.”
“Well, necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. You just have to find the right application for it.”
“Amen”, Ruby said, and the table resumed eating.
He stood at the gates to the underground city. The hooded man was shivering and his body blue from hypothermia, yet here he was.
The person cradled the shard of ice he had broken from one of the mountains in his hands. If this was the right place... He was back in business.
The supply shaft stretched for miles to the south and east. The rails travelled into the distance, into the darkness. Thal, Uric and Ruby had travelled under the city to visit the supply station and the supply carts. They were carved out of rock, with iron rails attached to the bottom, supposedly for travelling along the supply lines. While the carts were not very deep (though deep enough for carrying armor and such) they would be able to fit the Userpedian storage chest well enough. They would need an additional cart to carry the rest of the equipment, but it seemed satisfactory.
“I’m really impressed, I’ll admit,” Ruby said as they headed back up to the city. “And that would meet us up in the grasslands?”
“That’s right!” Uric said. “Less work for yer men, and the quicker you make it to warmer climates.”
Ruby nodded. “Always a plus.”
Thal cut in. “Now, giving it some thought, you guys haven’t actually been to the grasslands before, have you?”
“Well, not personally...”
“Hmm. Well, about your friend in the jail...”
The door to his jail cell creaked open. Aurenn sensed someone enter. It must have been one of the more brutish humans that had taken him here. He grunted in acknowledgement, and turned his senses to more important thoughts.
He heard a loud metal ‘clink’ and his right leg came free from the chain. This person was releasing him from the wall. “What are you doing, human?”
“Boss feels he can afford to grant you a little more movement. You’re still restricted to this cell until further notice, but now you can move. Be grateful.” The human undid the last of the chains and Aurenn fell to the floor with a heavy thump. The guard smirked, and simply left.
The tall creature climbed to his feet and brushed dust out of his fur, cursing silently to himself. He began to pace back and forth in his cell. In a way he thought being chained to a wall and at least being able to meditate was less boring than being allowed to pace back and forth and have absolutely nothing to do.
Some time passed before he sensed that human coming again. He spoke loudly, “It must be nice having someone to torment, mustn’t it?”
Ruby spat, “shut up,” as he walked up to the cell, standing outside it. … More calmly, “Actually, don’t. I need to question you some more.”
“I’m not going anywhere, human.”
“Good. What do you know of the grasslands to the east?”
Aurenn looked up at the human, unsure whether to be amused or angry. “You would dare venture through our lands?”
Ruby cursed under his breath. Crap, Thal was right. “We’re looking for a safe passage north through your territory. Preferably one that won’t lead us right into a bunch of your friends.”
To himself Aurenn thought, bah, friends. “You should consider going underground, and not walking in the open with a large group of humans. You only invite death.”
Aurenn found himself the target of a lightning bolt emanating from Ruby’s staff. The creature shook, his body coursing with electricity that eventually left him. He collapsed, to the grim look in Ruby’s eye. “Watch your next words, worm. I am authorized to eliminate you if I need to.”
The creature, visibly singed, scowled with open hatred. “You should learn to stitch yourself back together, human. The insect who guides you will surely be smarter than your so-called leader.”
Ruby smirked. “Oh, I doubt it... insect.”
“You wouldn’t dare. I will not stoop so low.”
“You can and will. You’re not through with us yet.”