Blood of Heroes
Another steel pick drove into the blindingly white cliff, sending hairline cracks in all directions, each forking and turning sharply like a bolt of lightning sent from the heavens to break the land beneath it. Tiny achromatic shards fell away from where the pick had sunk, but it was solid as weight was put on it. The Witcher clad in arctic blue and whites as pale as the cliff to which he clung took a look below him, gripping ever harder the pick, the leather strap of which was tied tightly around his fists. The cliff face was not smooth, and he searched for a place to support his foot. He dug the thick shod toe in the widest part of a narrow crevice, and tested its hold. Down a few feet below was his companion, working diligently in much the same manner, hoisting herself strongly towards the pair's ultimate goal. Grips of his hands and feet now confirmed, the Witcher pulled himself that few feet higher. In the new position he repeated every step. Looking down once more, he took in the world below them.
The land built gradually up to the cliff face, and the pair had trekked through it for the entire morning. There was a village some distance away, but it had taken all of the first full afternoon of their travel to pass the point of habitation. That instance was now two and a half days behind. Only the Caribou herds could be found this far north, and a trace of these had not been found either in their four days out of the settlement. The morning had begun after days of trudging through the tundra without mounts - as they had left these in the care of the villagers - as the land became an assortment of hills. Each time the fall was not as large as the rise, and the elevation grew infernally. They had been led by a magnet stone in a bowl of melted snow, showing the way straight north, and the ever present shadows of wings over the far mountains in the failing lights of the cloudy mornings and misty dusks. Cursing the gods who held the world's temperature control, they continued to climb as slow rises became hills became bluffs became escarpments became summits and ever upwards they went, climbing on feet, then hands and heels, then fingers and toes as the rises became ever steeper. And now they came to the sheer precipice of glacial ice jutting out straight upwards and hanging to the side of the first true peak of the Dragon Mountains.
The pack upon his back impeded his progress as greatly as it could, its weight and girth pulling him with as much power as it may have mustered down towards the rocky ground below. The steel and silver blades further adorning his back added to the strain. Even through the fur padding his body against the freezing winds was considerable, when the bare metal of the swords touch was felt, its bitter frigidity cut through the layers and seemed to freeze the Rook saturated blood in the capillaries. The potion, though, brought warmth to his extremities as it invigorated the muscles ripping at their fibers. Turning his gaze upwards as he moved to sink the pick once more into the ice, tiny flakes of floating snow descended on the light winds to burn what parts of his face were not covered by a thick cloth mask. He squinted at the sky, lids protecting the vulnerable eyes from piercing daggers of cold. Though his partner did not carry a pack as loaded as his, he knew that any trouble he had was just as bad in her experience.
At long last there was reached a point at which the highest Witcher's pick had no higher ice to dig into. Instead he was forced to throw it's point up over the edge of the overhang above, pulling himself up onto a forearm, then an elbow, then a shoulder, then his chest, and with the writhing of struggle and the struggle hoisting he was up onto the eminence. Still laying on the newly flat ground, he untied the straps from his wrists and relinquished the picks from his hands. They burned from the base of the palm to the tips of the fingers. He could feel his every heartbeat, a rapid pounding thundering within his chest, amplify the pain with each contraction. Having pushed himself up into a kneel, he threw off the pack, excitedly though tiredly. He took the minimum amount of care that he could, and slung it a few feet over to the side. Turning around, his stare fell over the edge once more. Laying himself back to his stomach, his arms both extended towards his companion there below. She offered up a pick, and he grabbed on to its curved head. Their efforts combined, she lifted herself until he could grasp her arm, and they struggled together to bring the female Witcher up onto the outcropping. For a long while they both laid there beside each other, their every muscle fibre feeling broken, their breath so quick and heavy that the steam it forced out could not dissipate before it was sucked back into their bodies.
"Thank you, Yves." The woman beside the Witcher muttered in airless tones. He painfully sat up, the swords on his back giving a degree of trouble.
"Of course." His own voice muttered. He crawled on all fours to the pack which he had tossed aside. It was drug through the gathering snow back to where his woman friend lay. A flap was thrown open, and his hand disappeared within. Out it came once more, holding within two vials of sky blue liquid, sloshing fluidly and showing no signs of freezing. With it came a translucent white stone, and Yves used this to quickly check for the sun behind the miles thick quilt of light grey clouds. "We'll take these Swallows, then we've got a few hours wait still left to rejuvenate. When time comes, we'll down two more Swallows, a Rook each, and you'll take the Cat while I drink a Golden Oriole." The female Witcher did not respond. He knew that she understood, though. He laid one of the azure vials on her upturned chest, and she caught it with her thickly gloved hand. Assuring himself of this, Yves pulled down his own mask. Revealed was his extremely fair skin, broken up by stubble already turning the bright golden hue of that hair to be found atop his cranium and flowing all the way down to the small of his back. The blue lips barely warm enough to make a pucker were put up to the lip of the flask, and his entire head tilted backwards towards the dimly lit sky. Liquid cascaded down Yves' tongue, washing over his tonsils in a single chug. It was no warmer than ice, and only the vodka he had previously mixed it with kept it from freezing, as he had much meant. As the last drops slid over the opening to his throat, he began to speak again: "A trip to Talgar for winter break, you said. It will be fun, you said. Make a little money hunting down whatever they've got giving them trouble, you said. We could be back at the school at this second, bellies bulging with pork and vodka, warm in a hall of ten fires with torches all around us, naked and riding each other like the horses we left back in the damn village!"
Yves' head swiveled to look behind him, and his golden, slit pupiled eyes took in the horror of a sight which met them there. The maw of a cavern opened to them, black within as the ink with which they scribed the papers at the Witcher school in Malleore. Icicles formed the opening of the crevice, long and pointed as brutal daggers warning of the pernicious danger held therein. The light barely reached a meter inside before it was crushed and violently slaughtered by the all devouring darkness. There was no lower for Yves' heart to sink, and thus it rose at the realization that the goal of their journey was at hand, and all that was left for the pair to do was to kill the horrid feathered beasts somewhere hidden there in the catacombs of time, and survive both the fight and the arduous journey back to the village and ultimately back to their cosy dorms in their cosy school in their cosy country.
"Igni us up a fire for a bit, why don't you?" He requested of the woman, "I'll make us some hide, fat and stale ploughing bread to eat. I've still got two and a half bottles of hooch in here, but that's more to be saved for after the fight. Don't want to over intoxicate, death would be a bit of a hinderance."
Removing the white furred hood and mask, Idris could acutely feel the large lumps pressing into her back from her awkward position atop the stuffed pack. Reaching the top of the glacier had been taxing, and the large bulky items they had been forced to take with them had only made it harder. Dark curls interspersed with small braids shook with the movement of her head, Idris smiled as she said "what's not to enjoy about some traveling, eh? It's not like they let us leave the place that often, especially you. Besides, if you wanted a romp in the sheets it's not like there is anyone to interrupt you but some blood thirsty harpies with no qualms about ripping apart your flesh and picking your bones clean, then sucking out the marrow like red candy." Lifting the pack from her sore shoulders to plop down with a clatter, she shuffled through the various contents until she found some small papers that were used to start fires. The biting cold had frozen her joints stiff and made it hard to make the signs appropriate for Igni. After a small time, and some effort a small fire fluttered to life atop the hard packed ice. The fire made a significant difference to the ice bitten Witchers, their breath frozen, and lungs aching from every inhalation of subzero air.
As Yves made to prepare the sparse meal, Idris turned her dark head towards the valley below, burnished gold eyes slitted to their fullest against the glare of reflected rays from the sun. Winter had lain its frozen hands upon Talgar, blanketing the green slopes with a covering of white, pines spearing the sky with their ice tipped tops. The forest looked empty from the height in which they resided, but she knew that was only due to the height of the sun. Most monsters preferred the night for their domain, and it was common knowledge across all the lands that to be caught outside the walls at night was folly indeed. All manner of monsters roamed the rolling forests, a fact she and her partner knew all too well as Witchers. Her eyes were drawn to the small walled village they had passed through on their way to the Dragon Mountains, the wood walls rising high into the air in order to ward off the things that stalked weak humans as prey. She remembered when she had been as weak and afraid as they, before she had been accepted into the Witcher's fold, but that was long ago and she had become stronger than her old self. The twin swords of silver and steel assured her of that, along with all the other changes that came with being one of them. Turning back towards the dark of the cave in which their prey resided, the black maw of the entrance greeted her with a sharp toothed smile, full of promises of blood and death to those who entered its confines.
Placing more fuel upon the tiny fire, she commented offhandedly "Judging by the reward offered, and the number of attacks reported by the villagers, I'd say we have a large nest on our hands. If we can remove the matriarch first we should be able to turn it more towards our favor. After that I would say using some Sammum to rid ourselves of the young and eggs in order to focus on the adult harpies. As long as we head in during the day when they are asleep we can get the bloody birds before they assemble for feeding. It'd be bloody annoying to have to fight the lot of them at full attention." Idris noticed that the fair skin of her face was becoming red from the burn of the sun and wind, and hurried to replace the warm hood and mask that was supplied with winter outfits. It would warm her breath and keep her from getting burned from the concentrated sunlight as she waited for the food that Yves was currently doctoring up from their available supplies.
Yves rummaged through the pack, and gathered all of the bits of salted ox flesh and bread they had been given by the indebted people in the village. Piece by piece of true material sustenance were produced. Food was a parse commodity in the Eastmarch of Kovir, and, being Witchers native to the area, they had been able to take this fact into stride, being built since childhood to hunt across vast expanses of land without the pressing need for food. Mutations, potions, and magic kept them going to a point. Though the few days prior to the scale they had just completed had been spent without eating, the pair had shared a breakfast in anticipation of the task ahead. Now, Yves thought, would make a great time for another meal, a step further in the healing of his broken body.
"Yes, I see your point. I'd rather have other parts sucked for a very different filling." Jested he, beginning to toast a slice of hard crusted bread over the small flame. His hands could not feel the warmth through the gloves, but, then again, his hands could not feel anything at all. Thus he fumbled as held the stick of butter close to the fire as well, to soften it for its application to the now browning bread. As it began to drip its sallow liquid form, he quickly rubbed its melting end over the coarse surface of the slice. Aromas of toasting bread and slight papery soot wafted through the heavy air, held down by the weight of the icy crystals still falling and the whipping wind taking them where they will. Yves could not perceive this, however, as it was dragged off towards the face of the ever climbing mountain, and his face far too muffled to allow the sweet and homely smell through in any case.
In an instant, a flash of black and a deafening, organic, and throaty screech stiffened Yves' muscles with surprise and fear. Seeing nothing but a mass of flesh approaching, Yves' cadmium eyes shut tightly as his body braced. One hundred pounds impacted Yves square in the chest with as much force as the hollow boned wings could propel. Talons bit deep into the barrier with which he had protected himself from all elements, save the creatures to be found in them. The force threw the Witcher backwards, and had him bowl one end over the other. His leather shod feet tangled into the abyss as he ceased rolling. Never could the world have guessed that physics and a half meter of stone and ice had saved the one destined to soon become such an important player within it. But he was safe, at the second, from a life ending fall. Not was he yet saved, though, from the life ending claws wheeling on outstretched wings back to face him.
Lifting his head from the ground, and reopening his constricted eyes, he perceived, floating in the air before him, a multitude of feathers swirled upon currents whipping the stone. Some were long, heavy, and inky black, while within them were interspersed downy, soft, and silvery plumes. Yves made to stand, forcing down his hands upon the rock. As his torso rose, thin trails of blood trickled out from the gashes in fabric and over the bleached whites and shallow, arctic blues of his coat. It was a vermillion splash that lent intensity to the camouflage. The down filling still let out a few feathers into the wind from its punctures, each tipped with a speck of sour smelling Witcher essence. The claws had slashed at his very heart, but could not dig deep enough. He was bleeding, indeed, but the gashes descended merely into the skin, breaking superficial vessels and doing little harm.
Yves intensified his efforts, and launched himself to his feet with as much speed and power musterable. Though the blood moistening his wounds was not great, the little aromas swept up into the drafts were far more than enough to rouse the pernicious beasts slumbering within the cover of the mountain's darkness. He turned his face to the harpy, once again incoming, and reached back for the long hilt of his silver blade. The folds of steel, silver, and yellow meteorite ore mixed into the alloy glinted a rainbow of lustrous tones as the light danced from the lethal point, over the flutes in its broad side, across the mortal edge, and to the miniature ursine bust adorning the end of the hilt, its same visage strung around the necks of the two Witcher's necks.