After the usual long consultation, we decided to head to the druidess. Some were in favor of wintering in Kreuzhofen. I read the weather, and discovered that out unseasonably warm temperatures were about to turn frigid tomorrow. In Kreuzhofen's favor was the fact that it's pretty close. But we'd have to go through Wintersteeth Pass, and I was certain we would not make it through before a devasatating storm. That would mean near certain death. The Druidess, in the Yetsin Valley, was a bit further away, but it was an easier trek. It was possible we could get out of the worst of the mountains before being buried by the coming storm. Besides, I couldn't fix Prestley, and the Druidess could. She already had brought him back from the dead once. I hoped with the cold weather I could keep his body in good enough shape. Last time it was only a few hours: this would be a solid week.

We continued through the night, although we attracted wolves. They shadowed us for a while, howling, and Miara placed us non-combatants in the middle, protected by the warriors. Kyuskay started out leading a bit in the front, away from the light so he could see in the dark better. But once the wolves appeared, he came in closer. With him at the front, Miara placed herself as rear guard. I clutched one of José's light pebbles. It was very dark out there. I just concentrated on my little bit of light, trying to forget all the nastiness out in the dark. But I keep seeing shreds of ghosts, and wraiths, and specters in the dark.

After an interminable time marching through the dark, wolves howling at us, we were all walking more slowly, some stumbling tiredly. Dully, I remembered the waterfalls were nearby. I told them I was pretty sure they were ahead of us, but they would be hard to spot. It was the perfect place to stop for a few hours and wait for dawn. We slowed down still further, and I watched oh so carefully for the slightest sign of something I could recognize, hoping we hadn't already passed it in the night.

We all recognized the spot, thought, all at once. We followed the turnoff up the steep mountainside. Carmella was just done, and so was Sun. We helped them along.

The wolves followed, and José said he felt like there was more than just wolves out there. But so far, nothing had attacked us. We followed the steep stream up the side of the moutain to the level area above the cliff. We had to climb up 20-30 feet -- there used to be a rope ladder, but it was gone now.

So Kyuskay climbed up with a rope, tied it off, and started to haul people up. Miara and I glanced at each other: the wolves were gone. Miara asked José about the others he thought were out there: he didn't think they were still there, but wasn't sure because it was so hard to see in the dark.

At the top, we entered the caverns again. They still appeared to be uninhabited. We split up: some of us stayed put and started a fire and made camp while the others went through caverns quickly but thoroughly and made sure we were the only ones there. We were. We set guards for the night and fell into sleep.

When the sun came up, the snow was already falling pretty thick. I tested the weather, I figured it was going to snow solid for at least another day. We needed rest and food and healing. I took care of that right away, and then Ashe and Kyuskay went hunting. They put together just enough food for the day. Bark took me out to hunt for plants, but I didn't find any. The day passed quietly. So did the second night.

I made another weather check, and my heart sunk. It was going to snow for another week. If we didn't make it out now, we'd be stuck there at least another week, and the way out would be much more difficult after that, if not impossible.

We talked it over. Every one of us felt that just staying, somewhere quiet and away from the world, and resting was a wonderful thought. It would be safe here. Our only problem would be food. We had none and would have to hunt for ourselves throughout what I thought would be a hard winter. Our experts, Kyuskay, Bark, and Ashe, considered things carefully and decided they could probably keep us provisioned. And once the weather cleared a little, I should be able to help out a bit with vegetables and roots.

And so we decided to hide from the world for the winter. At our first dinner, which was meat only, I realized I would have to find something for Miara to eat: she refused the meat and starved that night.

This place contained plenty of rooms, and we spread out and made ourselves comfortable. Miara claimed the Officer's Quarters off the entrance passage for herself. Ashe, Kyuskay, and Goldrim set themselves up just outside her room in the guards' room. One of those four is always on guard duty. Sun also slept there, to be nearby Miara. He also took control of the kitchens and did most of our cooking and cleaning. Carmella and I shared the empty armory, Bark took one of the high caverns, and José seemed very happy up in the work room.

Goldrim and Ashe worked together to fix the portcullis that closes the water passage off and the bridge.

There was a certain sameness to each day, which was not unwelcome. Kyuskay and Ashe hunted. Bark and I foraged for plant food and firewood. We sometimes ran a day's surplus or so, and sometimes went short.

I was about to relucantly conduct a burial service for Prestley when they others suggested we simply freeze him in a snowbank. Perhaps that would preserve him well enough so that in the spring the Druidess could revive him. I have my doubts, as I remember her being somewhat in hurry the first time to begin quickly after his death. yet it costs us nothing, and it may succeed. So I packed him well in snow and ice against the coming spring.

Ravenna, A Monk of the Biancan Order

Part the First:
Blood and Mud

Part the Second:
Murder and Mayhem

Part the Third:
Puzzles and Crystals

Part the Fourth:
Dwarves and Rocks

Part the Fifth:
Diplomacy and Daggers

Part the Sixth:
Crystal and Chaos

Part the Seventh:
Sheer Insanity

~ The End ~