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Scorp40left.png Winter is Coming Scorp40right.png

From the perils of the Age of Strife, All-Father deliver us. Anselm murmured under his breath as he returned to his desk. He threw another handful of coal onto the wrought-iron brazier beside his chair before returning to the sheaf of missives spread out from his desk. Troubling news everywhere troubling news. Cardinal Merudan was agitating for another Conclave again, earthquakes and floods in the lands of Mourning had smashed entire cities, and all the while the Order of Sentinels clamored for more men and aid, to keep the Second Scourge at bay.The Demons have yet to move in strength, saints be praised , the abbot thought to himself.But why?

As the prelate reached for ink and quill to draft a reply to the Lord of Bastion, he heard the bell ringing in the yard, and the low rumble as the portcullis went up. Anselm frowned. Who would they dare admit at this hour? he asked the empty room. By the time he had reached the door of his study a panting novice was there to tell him.

Mlord Abbot the boy stammered, making the bow of obedience.

Steady, my son. What has happened?

The stranger at the gate he has called for you.

For me? Again the old forehead creased into a deep frown.

Aye, your reverence. By name.

Then I shall see him. Lead on.

He is in the infirmary, your reverence.

Dozens of questions raced through Anselms mind as the novice led him through the echoing stone halls, past the carven busts of old abbots dating back an age, and grim-faced portraits of the holy saints. Faint echoes of the midnight rights in the chapel reached Anselms ears, and he let the gentle chants calm him. The old man had witnessed the War of Tears, the Great Schism, and the Turning itself. Surely tonights events could be of no great import. All the same, the old Prelate gasped to see the face that awaited him in the infirmary.

Renard! May all the Saints be praised! Can this be?

Aye, old owl, the withered figure answered through chattering teeth. Tis I.

A quick glance at his former pupil, and Anselm felt his heart sink. Ice was matted in the young mans wispy beard, and the dark purple marks on his forehead were a grim omen indeed.Frostbite? Anselm wondered.Can it be? Is the winter so much worse on other fragments? One glance at Renards blackened fingers gave Anselm his answer.

Sister, he said to the healer who was piling another thick blanket on the stranger. Send for Brother Baudwin. Wake him if you must. This man needs healing now. The hurt was too great for lesser blessings, the old man knew.

My humble thanks and praises be upon your abbey. Renard hissed through clenched teeth. You will forgive me if I do not bow. Anselm noted a new scar that ran across his old friends forehead, and saw the blood stain that matted his vestments.

Renard, what is the meaning of this? We had long given up hope of your return. Where have you been? What has happened to you to leave you in this state?

A shadow of remembered pain passed over the stricken Prelates face. Lord Abbot, the road home from Dalgoth City was longer than I dreamed. I come to you now from the Isle of Vorringsheim.

Vorringsheim? In the realm of Vorringia which was beyond Vanderlund of old? Anselm sat down at the news. But those lands are lost

No longer. The gates will reach them. I have been there, and returned.

What tidings have you then? Did you find Greensward Abbey there?

Greensward is gone. The Doom that came to Vanderlund consumed it after the Turning. The Dark has taken deep root there, and all matters run ill.

Ah, the abbot said, and shivered at the thought. Was it then the Thirteen, who have wrought so much havoc in the Mirrored Worlds?

Renards face frowned in confusion. That name I know not. The angry dead there are bound not by thirteen, but by one.

Tell me more!

Aye. The Turning has ruined the lands, as elsewhere: Vanderlund and Vorringsheim now have a narrow sea between them. All the ancient legends are true, old friend I have seen things only half-remembered in ancient tales! Valkyr, the Berserks that were Theoderics terror, Half-giantdaughters , and great Minotaurs as white as snow! The Beast Lords, they say, have returned, and all their feral children are howling in the North.

Anselm wondered at the news, and wondered how many of these tiding were delirium born of pain or fever. Shivering, Renard continued.

The Northmen still hold the northern reaches, as they ever have. The scattered survivors in the south have been without the light of the Holy Church, and have turned to the Old Faith. But they are sorely troubled, for Evil stirs in the north. Renard suddenly started, as if troubled by a dream. And to the south as well! A dread island called Maelstrom, full of demons!

Aye my son, there is one here as well. Every fragment holds one.

Renards eyes widened in terror. But how

It is not yet known. Anselm put a hand on Renards shoulder to comfort him, and was shocked to feel how cold the Prelate in the sickbed felt.Where is Baudwin?

His eminence and the Holy Cardinals still pray for guidance, but little is known for certain. Most see the Deceivers hand in it. The old man made the sign of the rings and shivered to mention the name. But the scourge is yet to fall. Something keeps the Legions at bay.

In Vorringia they say that the Ice stays the hellfire. Renards eyes widened, and his voice sank to a whisper. The Mother of Winter is freed.

A long moment of silence followed. Anselm was so shocked by the news he did not think to notice that the chanting in the chapel had stopped.

The Mother of Frykka, who the Furies name in their songs? Surely not. She is but a fable, a myth of the Invorri.

No, my brother, Renard answered, his pale face growing whiter still. She is real. All too real. And somehow she has been loosed from the prison Torvald set her in. She has made some pact with the Dark Outside, and now reigns as a queen of cold and death. I have seen her children, the Frostborn. And the legions of the frozen dead, stirred to hellish life by her kiss! Vorringia crawls with them! But they are not the worst I have seen Frykkas champion.

What champion is this? Anselm asked. His hands were trembling, but not from cold.

Torvald has fallen. Renard said. A titan is dead. The Winters Mother has raised him up, a foul terror of ice and cold whose slightest touch is death.

By all the saints! Still, Torvald turned his back of the Father of All long ago. His grim fate is well-deserved.

Renard chuckled grimly. Say not so to any Northman. All the Invorri are mad with grief, howling for vengeance. They seek Frykka, but cannot find her in Vorringia. Meanwhile, the Mothers legions teem and spread.And the Runeways to Vorringia are open.

Dear Father in Heaven. Anselm whispered. We must warn the Bishop at once! You shall tell me more when you have rested. Where in Perditions name is Brother Baudwin?

Just then a scream echoed from the hall outside. Anselm tensed, listening. The ring of steel came from the yard, and gruff shouts in some guttural tongue.

They are here! the old Prelate cried, and immediately called upon St. Lorne for blessing.

No! All-Father forgive me, I was followed! Renard cried. He tried to rise, but sank back to his bed, coughing furiously.

Theyve crept over the walls like thieves, and caught us in our beds , Anselm thought frantically, his old fingers fumbling at the belt of his vestments. He found the hidden belt pouch even as his mind reeled in fear. Were caught. The old Prelate started for the door to bar it, but it opened even as he turned. Death was standing there.

A great Minotaur, his fur white as hoarfrost, came into the room. Red gore matted his pelt, and the beasts eyes were gold as flame. Anselm gazed in horror at its curved horns, carved with foul runes and painted crimson with dried blood.

Unclean beast! the old man shouted, Get thee back! Strong is my soul with the Strength of the All-Father! A bright flash filled the room as the holy chant was finished, but the hulking creature stood unfazed. From his bed, Renard screamed. A Blood Horn! We are doomed! The foul thing laughed.

Anselm reached into the hidden belt pouch, and fumbled out a sparkling gemstone. The Minotaur leaped into the room, axe held high, but paused as the old man held the stone high. Khalledriel, blessed messenger, aid me! He cast the stone down, at it shattered. The Minotaur tensed, expecting some new spell, but nothing happened.

Please be awake, be awake, be awake! Anselm thought. Hundreds of leagues away, the stone that was the mate to his was now glistening with holy radiance.Deacon Farrouk, summon me! With haste!Be awake, for mercys sake please be awake!

But a tense second passed, and Anselm felt nothing. The Minotaur grinned, and barked something in its wretched speech. It calmly stepped forward. Anselm bowed his head.From the fury of the Northmen, All-Father deliver us.

The Minotaurs axe flashed in the light, and the Prelates blood painted the walls crimson.

The cold night soon echoed with the shrieks of the dying and with savage howls, the like of which had not been heard in those hills for centuries. Outside in the night, the first snows began to fall.

Winter had come.