Twadi slips and slides around an icy corner, her lungs aching from the cold air. A low wall blocks her path, and she falls attempting to avoid the unexpected barrier. A dull pain flares in her shoulder as she strikes the frozen ground.
"There's the cur!" a man snarls. The peasants have found you again.The crowd presses closer, their dark faces twisted with anger.
"Murderer!" cries an old lady.
"I was framed!" Twadi gasps. The peasants will not listen, even though what she says is true.
"Kill the swine,” says a flat, even voice. The words are backed by the authority of the sheriff.
A man in front throws a fist-sized rock at Twadi. Even though she tries to dodge, the rock strikes her on the cheek. Hee face is so cold she can barely feel it strike, but a long trickle of fake blood soon runs down her face.
A man carrying a wooden club pushes through the crowd. Twadi jumps to her feet and kicks the man in the stomach. Before he reacts, she turns around and scrambles over the wall.
Twadi finds herself in an alley leading to the town gate. The gate itself stands open several yards ahead.
Twadi hears the peasants trying to climb over the wall. "Stop! Stop, murderer!" they cry.
Twadi runs toward the open gate. As she approach, a guard steps into the road. Ha hand rests on his sword.
“There's a murderer loose!" she shouts. His mouth opens, but before he can say anything. She strikes his jaw with her fist. His teeth snap together and his head flops back, He crashes to the icy ground.
As Twadi runs through the gate, a bowstring twangs and an arrow zips past her shoulder. Ahead, she sees a stand of evergreen trees. She runs full speed toward the trees, slipping and sliding along the icy road. The peasants howl and scream, following close behind.
Twadi plunges into the stand of trees, snapping and tearing at the branches as she struggles through the deep snow. Soon, she hears the peasants yelling and screaming as they follow her into the forest.
After several minutes of struggle, Twadi emerges from the trees. Much to her surprise, a merchant sledge travels along the edge of the forest. Without hesitating, she catchs the back and pulls herself inside. She quickly burrows under its cargo of furs and cloth, hoping to hide until it carries her a safe distance from the village.
After several minutes of slow movement, the sledge stops. Twadi hears many muffled, angry voices, but she cannot understand all of the conversation.
“Did…murderer escaped…attacked town guard!"
"No...simple merchants...caravan over the pass."
"Maybe ... search sledges."
Twadi lies as still as possible, scarcely daring to breathe. Soon, the back of the sledge rattles and she hears someone pull the cover back.
Twadi feels a man digging through the furs on top of the load, but he stops before reaching her. "Only furs and carpets in here!" he says gruffly. He throws the furs back and the voices fade away. She allows a sigh to escape her lungs.
At last, the sledge jerks and moves again. Soon. Twadi is very drowsy, and allow the movement of the sledge to rock her to sleep.
When she awakens. the caravan is still moving. Twadi has no idea of how long she has slept. She is hungry, thirsty, and her muscles are cramped. By now, it must be late afternoon.
As it grows dark, Twadi crawls from her hiding place and climb off the sledge. When her feet touch the snow, she feels a sharp jab in her back. "Ho, varlet!" says a rough voice. "Where'd you come from?" She turns and sees two men mounted on ponies. They wear heavy furs and leather armor. One holds a lance level with her chest. The other, a grizzled fellow with a black beard says, "You'd better come along with us."
The two guards march Twadi alongside a caravan of sledges. She often sinks into snow up to her knees, and bitter cold numbs her hands and face. All along the trail, sledge drivers whip their ponies and struggle to free stuck sledges.
Finally, Twadi reaches the front of the caravan. The drivers have already drawn several sledges into a small stand of evergreens to make camp. Several men stand huddled around a large campfire. As she approaches, the black bearded rider says. "Master Visond, what new cargo do you now carry? He prods you into the center of the camp with his lance. A thin, fur-clothed man turns around and eyes you warily.
"What's this?" he asks.
The black bearded one swings off his mount and shoves Twadi towards Visond. 'We caught this lion in your load." He claps his hands together over the fire and rubs them.
"Well, then," says Visond, “so you would take passage over Blizzard Pass in my caravan?”
"Shall we send him out to freeze, Master Visond?" asks the black bearded one anxiously.
"I would say it is he the villagers sought," says the other rider. This man's voice is gentle, yet strong. Twadi studies him closely for several seconds. The man is an elf!
"Aye," says the first rider. "Be careful, murderer, or I’ll do the villagers' job for them."
"No," Visond says, "we will not harm the stranger. I am short of workers. He will earn his passage as a sledge worker." Visond turns to Twadi, "I trust you do not mind?"
That night, Twadi helps the others prepare camp, tend the animals. and cook dinner. After she finishs eating, she curls up on a bed of old furs Visond has given her and passes a cold, restless night.
The caravan starts over the pass early the next morning. Twadi struggles through the deep snow alongside the sledges, often stopping to heave and push the heavy vehicles through long, deep drifts of snow.
By afternoon, they are near the top of the pass, but the sky has grown dim with clouds. Visond halts the caravan and talks with Daras, the guide. Finally, he calls back, "We go on. Daras says the snow will not come before nightfall."
Within an hour, the sky turns stormy gray, and howling winds whip the powdery snow so fiercely Twadi cannot see two feet. She grabs the sledge and holds on, praying it does not leave her behind in this terrible blizzard.
The sledge soon stops, and a few other workers huddle near Twadi. She crouches next to the sledge, listening to the winds wail and staring blankly into the curtain of falling snow. Eventually, she sees the shadowy form of a man stumbling toward you through the driving snows. It's Visond!
"We're lost!" he cries to you. "Tie a rope to yourself and search ahead!"
Twadi ties the rope around her waist, and stumbles forward through the blizzard. The wind whips the snow so hard she cannot even see the sledge. She continues to trudge through the snow, and soon she sees a few shadowy shapes ahead. She presses on through the blizzard, hoping the shapes are the rest of the caravan. Suddenly, she sees a pair of beady red eyes moving toward her. A small, scaly creature charges out of the blizzard, a heavy stick raised in his gnarled hand.
Before Twadi can react, the scaly, gray creature slams its stick into her stomach. She falls to her knees, clutching her stomach. The little monster hits her again, this time on her head. Her vision fades, and the world seems to spin. She falls face-first into the snow.
Twadi's head throbs painfully as she awakens. Despite the heavy fog in her groggy mind, she hears several people talking.
"We're as good a dead no matter what we do. Why bother?"
"Hold your tongue, Danja, for our companion wakes. We should not make her return to the living unpleasant."
Twadi slowly opens her eyes. Even the dim gray light of the room hurts at first, but her eyes soon adjust to the lighting. As she looks about the room, she sees she is locked in an underground cell with two others from the caravan. The floor of the cell is littered with the grime of several years.
A moderately endowed dragoness walks over to Twadi. "I am called Nemka, stranger. The tigress is called Danja" she says, motioning towards her. Twadi recognize Danja as one of the guards who captured her earlier, all of them have been stripped of their possessions, even their cloaks and boots.
Nemka kneels beside Twadi and skillfully prods Twadi's skull. "Hold still. Tilt your head." Nemka pokes a swollen lump on Twadi's temple and she flinches. "Nasty lumps you have here, but you will live." Nemka bows her head and whispers to herself for a moment, then looks up and says, "I have some powers of healing. If you find yourself in need, tell me. But I warn you, I can heal you only once."
Twadi crawls to the bars of the cell. They appear to be wood, but seem unusually strong. She tests them and finds they are quite solid. The door is locked by a rusty padlock and chain.
"Forget it, murderer," the Danja says. "One cannot escape that way. We are doomed to die in this cell."
The room beyond the cell is lit by a sputtering lamp on a scarred table. The crumbling walls of the chamber glisten with moisture. Twadi hears faint echoes of dripping water behind two worn furs hanging on the chamber walls.
Nemka sits beside Twadi. "We're in a nasty fix. we are. Those little men've got us good, and I can't say it'll be an easy death when they do us in." Danja pauses, then renews her conversation, "How'd they nab you? Took five of them to pull me down. Popped off two or three more, I did. I suppose they'll remember me for that, I do." When Twadi does not answer, she continues thoughtfully, "Sure was funny, the way that storm popped up, don't you think?"
Twadi nods in agreement and studies her companions. Nemka continues to whisper, oblivious to the exterior world.
Twadi hears a gruff voice humming some dark and gloomy tune as it approaches the chamber. The curtain parts and a small, scaly, dog-faced creature steps into the room. It comes to the cage and prods Danja with a long stick. "Not much f-f-fat on you," it stutters in Common. "B-b-b-big f-fat man there!" It points at Twadi. "M-make good d-d-dinner! Eat soon!"
It chuckles, then jabs Nemka with the stick. "You m-m-make good dessert, nice and j-j-juicy!"
Nemka lets out a terrific sigh and collapses to the ground.
The creature chuckles, then leaves the room.
Twadi drops to her hands and knees, searching the grimy floor. Nemka stands next to her. "What're you doing? I think you've lost your mind, I do. Some scaly little thing wants to eat me for dessert, it does. I surely don't see how crawling around on the floor's going to help at all." Twadi explains that she wants to save her own neck as much as Nemka wants to save hers, but she can't do anything with her bare hands. Without further comment, Nemka drops to the floor and starts running her hands through rubble. Soon, Twadi's fingers encounter something cold and stiff in a dirt-filled corner. She scrapes the dirt away and finds a dull piece of metal 2 inches long. Nemka continues to search the cell, finding nothing but useless trash.
Nemka takes the piece of metal from Twadi and attempts to pick the lock with it. The chain and padlock fall away. The two of them quickly leave the cell. Nemka says, "We'd better find some weapons!" He begins searching the room.
Nemka goes to the furs covering one of the exits and peeks behind it. "All clear this way!"
After looking behind the other fur, Danja turns to Nemka and says, "You have freed us. Where you lead, I shall follow."
Twadi stops her search. "Wait a minute," she says, "what's this? Who says we need a leader?"
Danja stands back and eyes Twadi coldly.
"If we wish to escape alive, we need a leader," says Danja forcefully.
"Not me," snaps Nemka. "I've aways been more of one that gets pushed around."
While the others argue, Twadi hears a faint, off-key humming behind the curtain.
Twadi snatches a stool and faces the fur curtain. The others do not notice what she is doing. Suddenly, the curtain moves, and an scaly little dog-faced beast enters, carrying a wineskin and a sword. Its jaw drops in surprise, exposing sharp little teeth.
Twadi smashes the stool into the creature's head, and the surprised beast drops to the ground. Nemka stares at the creature. "It's a good thing you have your wits about you," says Nemka, "or we'd all be dead by now."
"Perhaps," says Danja, "but her actions do not prove her merit." "Are there any more of the beastly things?" asks Danja.
"This is the only one I saw," Twadi answers, "but we must move on before others come. Search the room and let's leave."
Twadi claims the beast's sword. Nemka will use the stool as a club. Danja overturns a table, then breaks one of the legs off to use as a club. Though the three of them search the room thoroughly, they find nothing else of use except the lamp.
Twadi carefully opens the curtain and peers down the passage. It travels several meters before it turns to the left. A hint light glows around the corner.
Twadi, "So you are Alta's pet?"
Twadi, "How did that happen?"
Nemka, "We meet at the auction house on SocialPolitical Ramifications. That's a place where fur can auction themselves of to play as peoples slaves."
Nemka, "We sort of clicked and We always played together after that, eventually I confused my love for him and told him I wanted to be his real life wife. But what I truly wanted wasn't to be a wife but to a slave and be taken care of by a caring master"
Twadi and Nemka make a turn down a side tunnel and continue talking as he explores the passageway.
"It broke Alta's heart when he realized I couldn't be the kind of wife he deserved, but luckily you where there for him. It think that's why he is so devoted to you. Not only are you both wantaby big cats, artists and programmers, but you where his Oneesan when he need one the most."
Twadi rounds the corner, her weapon in hand. The passage continues for several more meters, then opens to a room on the right. Light streams from this room. Twadi carefully move down the hallway. Soon, a man steps around the corner and walks toward her.
Twadi slips back to her companions and whispers, "Someone's coming!" She and Nemka hide on one side of the doorway. The man soon steps into the room, unaware of their ambush.
The man dodges Twadi's blow, but Danja strikes him solidly. The man draws his sword and swings at Twadi, missing by a breath!
Nemka hits the man, but do not prevent him from lunging at Twadi. His sword strikes her shoulder. After he strikes her, he falls to the floor and does not move. Nemka takes the man's sword and armor as her breasts won't get in the way.
Twadi asks Nemka to heal her and Nemka places her hands on Twadi's wounds. The cuts slowly begin to close.
The party moves carefully down the passage and around the bend. Light still shines from the doorway ahead. Signaling the others to wait, Twadi sneaks up to the opening and peers into the room. Two men sit at a table drinking. Both wear chain-mail and have weapons hanging at their sides. Several torches flicker on the walls, and a lantern hangs above the table. She sees another opening on the other side of the chamber. She cannot identify the rest of the items in the room, for there are many shadows.
Twadi nods then readies her weapon, "Ready?" she whispers.
Danja and Nemka ready their own weapons and nod.
Nemka will lead the attack, since she is now wearing armor. Twadi follows, with Danja bringing up the rear.
On Nemka's signal, they all rush into the room. As soon as the men see them charge into the room, they jump to their feet and tip the table over, creating a small barrier in the girls path. One man draws a sword, while the other steps back and gestures with his hands.
"Stop him!" Danja shouts. "Stop the priest!"
Before any of the girls can attack the priest, he shouts several words in a strange language. A sudden flash of light engulfs Nemka's head. She screams, and begins to stumble about the room, swinging blindly at anything that makes a noise. Finally, she stumbles into the table and falls to the ground. Almost immediately, the priest's companion brings his weapon down on the helpless Nemka.
Danja yells a battle cry and attacks Nemka's would be killer, swinging her weapon with the rage of grief. Twadi kicks the fallen table aside and charges the cleric, who is frantically trying to grab his mace. Twadi raise her sword to strike, but Danja screams. "Take him alive!"
Twadi hesitates for a split second and the evil cleric takes advantage of her hesitation to reach for his mace. Raising Twadi's sword to strike, She yells, "I can't wait!"
Twadi throws herself at his legs and tackle him;he drops his mace.. Within seconds, Twadi has knocked him unconscious. As Twadi look about the room, you see Danja has defeated another opponent, but Nemka lies motionless on the floor. Danja kneels next to her, praying. Finally, he looks up and says, "Look fore something we can use to bandage her wounds."
The two of them search the room and Danja finds a small bottle. "I think it's a health potion!"
Danja hands the bottle over to Twadi and she opens it and gives it a sniff before pouring some of it's contents onto Nemka's wound then the rest of it into her mouth.
Nemka coughs and sits up, "Why does it have to taste like cough syrup!?"
All three search the room and the men. In the far comer of the room, they find their armor, weapons, and thief's tools. Danja and Nemka find their equipment, too. Both of Nemka's companions quickly don some chain-mail. Danja slips her sword into its scabbard without comment, but as Nemka picks up her mace, she says. "It feels good to hold a proper weapon again!"
On the men and Twadi finds 100 gp. They have nothing else of value.
Danja holds her blade to the evil cleric's throat and removes his gag. Before she can say anything, Twadi barks, "What do you know of this place? Speak, you believer in evil gods!"
The cleric eyes the group spitefully, then spits on Nemka. Nemka raises her mace to strike, but quickly restrains herself.
"My lord Stodos, Master of the Icy Wastes, will punish you for your crimes," the evil cleric hisses. "You will not escape these caverns alive!" His voice grows loud as he rants. He is stalling for time, hoping to attract help. Danja quickly knock him unconscious with the hilt of her weapon.
"Why did you do that?" asks Twadi angrily. Danja explain her reasons, and she grudgingly acknowledges that Danja is right. Twadi quickly replace the evil cleric's gag.
Twadi pulls the curtain aside carefully and sees a heavy portcullis.
As Twadi searches the gate, she hears the twang of a spring and feel a sharp object embed itself into her arm. Almost immediately, Nemka pulls the dart and examines it. "You have the luck of fools," she says, studying the dart. "You should be writhing on the floor, dying slowly and with much pain. But the idiot who last loaded this trap neglected to fill this dart with the poison it was intended to deliver. You will have to be more careful, or you will not live to see the sun again."
After several attempts to lift the heavy portcullis, Danja ask the others to help. All three of them grasp the bottom and heave. The portcullis slowly rises over their heads and locks in place with a click. They all step through quickly. They hear the chains of the portcullis rattle loudly, and turn around just in time to see the heave gate slam back to the ground. As Twadi inspects it, she sees that one of its chains snapped. They would have to replace this chain before operating the gate again.
As the party sneaks along the passage, they notice they are no longer walking through a man-made corridor. The slick limestone walls are irregular, and stalagmites occasionally rise off the floor. They walk around a bend into a dark cave.
Small, furry bats hang from the dozens of stalactites in the huge room, and hundreds of toads crowd together around the stalagmites rising from the floor. As they advance into the room, they see a magnificent white statue of a toad-like creature resting in the center of the room. The body of the stone beast lies close to the ground, as if ready to spring. The lantern light glitters off its enormous multi-faceted eyes, making the statue seem almost alive.
Rusted weapons hang on both sides of the room. An open trunk rests between two stalagmites on the left-hand wall. Danja walks to the trunk and reaches inside. She pulls out several red and black robes, as well as four medallions. Each medallion has an engraving similar to the statue.
Nemka circles the statue slowly, studying it from all sides. Finally, she says, "If I remember my studies properly, this is a statue of the vile god Stodos, called Master of the Icy Wastes by his worshipers. This evil god lives in a frozen world where no other life survives, and is an abomination to all things natural. His worshipers desire to spread his icy realm throughout the land, Some even believe he bestows power over the elements upon his most devoted followers."
"The unnatural storm that brought us here!" gasps Danja. "Could his vermin have caused such a thing?"
Nemka thinks for a moment. "Yes," she finally answers, "and if so, the lands below face great danger. Fate has brought us here to battle his loathsome evil. We must demolish this foul temple and destroy the leader of this evil band! Help me deface the accursed statue!"
Twadi inspect the front of the statue carefully.
Suddenly, she finds a trap! The mouth of the statue squeaks open and the floor suddenly tilts beneath her feet. She slips into the mouth of the statue and find herself sliding down a dark chute!
Twadi continues to slide for several seconds, her head and arms banging against the sides of the chute. Finally, it opens into a large room. she falls eight feet straight down, strike a man-sized body, and, finally, lands head first on the rock floor.
Some minutes later, Twadi shakes her aching head and opens her eyes. Her vision is blurred and tinted red, but she sees three blobby shapes standing nearby. They seem to be talking, but her groggy mind cannot understand their words.
In a few seconds, Twadi's head clears and she identifies the shapes. They are three heavily armed men, and, apparently, they are very angry.
"I'll lop her ears off and feed her to the dogs," says the closest. He turns toward Twadi and sees she is awake. "So, you've finished your nap, have you?" He steps closer and jabs her in the ribs. "You fell on one of my friends, you did, and now he's as dead as a fish out of water, he is." He raps her aching head with his knuckles. Instinctively, she tries to raise her arms to protect herself, but her hands are tied behind her back. "Don't squirm!" he says, kicking her in the ribs.
"Hugh! Don't kill her, or I'll cut your thumb off!" barks the largest man. Hugh turns toward the speaker, his hand on his sword hilt. The large man draws his sword quickly, then says, "The Master wants to talk to this one."
Hugh releases his sword hilt, saying, "Okay, Morgan. But when the Master finishes, we've a little game to play, him and me." The others chuckle nastily.
"Sure, Hugh," says Morgan, "just leave enough meat for the runts."
Morgan opens the door behind Twadi and says, "This way, scoundrel." The men drag you through the door and cut your bonds. Her fingers ache as the blood flows back into her numb hands. The largest of her captors grabs her shoulder and turns her around. A black robed figure sits behind a heavy table on the other side of the dark room. On either side of the hooded figure, a candle set in a wolf-skull holder sputters noisily. The hooded figure studies her briefly, then waves all but Morgan out of the room.
"Well, now," hisses the Master, "you are a resourceful youth. I fear I have underestimated your capabilities, but I will not make the same mistake twice." He stands, almost silently, and says "But I am not a vengeful man. I will give you an opportunity to free yourself from the debt of lives and trouble you have incurred in my abode." He
reaches into the darkness behind his seat, and pulls aside a black curtain. Several large, slimy frogs sit in a cage behind the curtain. Twadi can see the tips of long fangs sticking out from their mouths. "I will take payment in two forms - your service, or your life. The choice is yours." He smiles and she sees that his face is almost bone-white.
The Master smiles, pleased. "Of course, I cannot give you your weapons at this time. The others do not trust you. After you gain their friendship, we will not have this little problem."
With that, Morgan leads Twadi into the outer chamber, where the others who captured her wait. He turns to her and whispers, "Be careful, newcomer. Hugh will attack you if given any excuse." He then turns to the others and says loudly, "Meet our newest member, signed on by the Master himself!" He looks directly at Hugh as he says the last part of the sentence. The others greet her sullenly and turn away.
As Twadi starts to settle down, a little scaly creature runs into the room and squeaks, "Attackers! Attackers! Help us!" It runs back the way it came.
Morgan thrusts a sword hilt into Twadi's hands and drags her after the creature. She rounds a bend and enters a room, where the Master and two of the little creatures are battling Danja and Nemka.
"Kill them!" orders the Master. Morgan shoves you toward the fight.
Twadi lunges at the Master, swinging her sword with all her might. The sword cuts through air where the master should have been standing. The room becomes a blur of colors whirling about her head. She falls to the floor, disoriented.
Twadi slowly regain her senses. She is in the same chamber, but everyone else is gone! All of her weapons and equipment lie beside her in a neat pile. She sees no sign of the Master, Roderick, Salamdros, Hugh or anyone else!
Standing unsteadily, she stumbles about the chamber. The floor is thick with dust, and the only tracks in it are her own. The chamber looks to have been long deserted. She gathers her weapons and slip into her equipment.
A hollow voice suddenly echoes throughout the chamber. "You have done well," it says, "and the gods of Law are pleased. If you demonstrate such faith and trueness of heart every day, you will do well in the world. Remember our words!" The dust swirls in front of her.
The glint of metal sparkles through the whirlwind. As the dust settles, Twadi sees a sword thrust into the ground. "Use this magic sword (+1) with wisdom and justice. Do not falter from the demands of law, and you shall always prosper." A chill breeze suddenly fills the room. The air is soon filled with the scent of mountain air. Twadi takes her reward and walk into the breeze, the glow from the sword lighting her way. Before long, She stands on a sunlit mountain slope in the cold, crisp air. Far below, a caravan struggles along the pass.
Danja and Nemka are there to greet her.