„Is that the bridge?“ For an instant, I stopped and enjoyed my moment of solitude. Before me, a huge canyon opened up, allowing for a spectacular view of the snow-covered peaks of the western Windwall mountains. As far as the eye could see, the peaks stretched out as a massive ocean of rock, covered by the spray of eternal snow, frozen and unchanging to the eyes of mortals. Wisps of cloud were driven by the wind across a steel blue sky and cast subtle shadows on otherwise immaculate planes of white. The crunching of snow under boots behind me hailed the end of my short rest. „What other bridges would you expect to find in such a forsaken place, human?“ Skjalf stomped past to me, bearing the load of his pack and innumerous axes. Not that the weight really seemed to hinder him, in fact, as we had learned the last few days, hardly anything bothered the Dwarf. He sneered at me and started the descent down to the bridge that we had been searching for days.
Like a small strip of perfectly formed rock the bridge crossed the dark chasm of the canyon. The supporting pillars that disappeared into the unfathomable depths below seemed almost too thin and elegant to support its weight. Truly, this was a prime example of the architecture of the empire of old, a testament to the skills of the Dwarven masters, whose ancestor now descended the slope before us.
Now, the others began to pass me, the exhaustion leaving no room for other expressions on their faces. Caele, a lock of whose red hair always managed to free itself from the bonds of her hair-bands and whip her face rebelliously, slowly unpacked her bow from the protective fur as she strode toward the valley. Joshua, who still bore the same expression of disgust as the first time he had set foot on the snow, pulled the gloves from his elegant fingers and brushed snow and ice from his sword and quiver, cursing under his breath as he followed Caele. Gunthar was the last, his bald head uncovered despite the cold and his heavy arms crossed over the shaft of the huge axe that rested on his neck. He rolled his dark eyes as his gaze passed over me and he followed the others down through the snow. In the last few days, we had all cursed each other many a time for so easily following the Dwarf’s tales and gold. This was no place for humans. But at least we were able to get away from the war for a while.
I took my shield from my back and joined the others.
We crossed the endless abyss on the narrow bridge. Over five hundred paces long, it spanned the canyon to a snow-covered slope that was visible between the harsh cliffs in the west. This narrow path of stone was the only way to reach the white rise that opened amist the vertical rocks, the passage to an unknown mountain which we were to climb. We met neither the traps nor the ancient magic that Skjalf had warned us about and reached the other side of the bridge unharmed, but chilled by the icy winds. Our boots dug into the virgin snow and the cold air carried the noise across the glittering surface of the steep slope that led up into the clouds. Wisps of snow blew over the the shining surface like ghosts. It appeared as if no living thing had ever set foot here before. “We’re going to climb the whole mountain with our weapons drawn? There’s nothing…” “Not the whole mountain. Look!“ Skjalfs armored hand pointed up the ravine and silenced my half-hearted protest. With each step we took, the silhouette of an imposing gravesite loomed more and more clearly out of the fog of the cloud cover. Into the face of the cliff, Skjalf’s ancenstors had carved a gigantic doorway, narrow and tall, surrounded by a wall of statues that stared down at us sternly with their cold, stone eyes. Silently, we looked up with awe to the massive gate that, surrounded by the fine fog of the clouds, seemed to be as far off and as huge as the mountain itself. Skjalf quickened his pace as he strode ahead.
“This is the grave of Torgen, the last of the Dragon Slayers. It was built in his honor by Urgrim, the greatest of the Dwarven master builders. Many years and many lives did it cost, including that of the builder himself.” The Dwarf’s voice sounded grim. “Urgrim never left this place.” “What is this Lördir that you seek? An heirloom?” Caele tried in vain to shake a lock of hair from her frostbitten face, her clear gaze fixed suspciously on the armored back of the Dwarf. “What does it look like? At least tell us this!” Oblivious to her questions, the Dwarf strode on, but his hand reached out as if by reflex to check for the heavy double-edged axe her carried under his pack. It looked to weigh at least three times as much as Gunthar’s huge weapon, and none of us knew why he had brought it here to the frozen peaks of Windwall. “You’ll know soon enough. Let’s go!”
Onwards and upwards through the knee-deep snow we waded. Our heavy breathing rose like white flags to the north as we fought our way through the white sea until we finally reached flatter ground. The gate was not far now, and to the left and right statues of fallen Dragon Slayers rose out of the snow. The sun was just starting to set and drew golden-red streaks across rocks and sculptures as we approached the grave in the blue shadow of the mountain. Around us were many smaller monuments, some hardly recognisable under the blanket of snow, others showing fierce dragons and raging demons. A battle, frozen in stone here in the endless winter. The wind blew fiercely amongst the creatures and whistled between their claws, creating an eerie, surreal song. We started to slow. Like a thin veil, the threat of danger lay upon this place. Even the Dwarf moved cautiously, his armored fist not leaving the handle of his axe. Suddenly, Joshua drew a sharp breath and we followed his gaze to the mountain. Only a few paces separated us from the door, where the snow had recently been disturbed. Bones lay strewn there, the carcasses of what might have been mountain goats, ripped and disemboweled as by wild beasts. Without a word, we readied our weapons and made a circle. Watching, waiting, we heard only our own breathing and the strange song of the wind. Above our heads, stony faces looked to the east, oblivious to our presence.
Then he jumped right in front of me and landed on a monument, a club of stone and wood in his hairy paw. For a split-second, I saw a huge, human-like form with a great, goat-like head staring down at me. With a ear-splitting roar, he launched himself into the air and his club slammed down on me. I only just managed to raise my shield to try and ward off the blow of the weapon. A blow from the hammer of the Smith God himself could not have been worse. My shield rang like a bell under the force of the stone club and I dropped to my knees, my shield arm numb to the shoulder. Snow flew into my face and half-blind, I ducked under the shield and sought my sword which the blow had knocked out of my hand. Again, the club crashed down on me, banging the shield against my head, almost knocking me unconscious. In my desperation, I supported the shield with both arms and forced my knees to support me – but alas, my numbed limbs did not obey. As if from a great distance, I heard the sounds of battle behind me, snow blowing around me like a white storm. Once more, the mighty weapon rushed towards me, striking the edge of my shield, breaking the leather straps and sending it flying like a leaf in the wind. The force of the blow knocked me to the ground and the Brute, half human, half animal, roared in triumph.
To be continued…