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chill wind in the mountains

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Malin trudges along a dirt path, his leg aching where one of Dela’s fighters got a knife in. There are few trails to follow, up here in the hills and mountains near where the mighty gryphons roost. This part of Wesnoth is desolate, with villages far and few between. He takes a  few more steps, then sits beneath a scraggly old tree, one that’s managed to hang onto the rocky hillside. 

He wasn’t wrong to say that these lands would be difficult for any to mount a pursuit after him, but by the dead gods, it isn’t easy for Malin either. He lost Cadaeus’ righteous knights and sanctimonious paladins within half a day, leaving behind some skeletons to muddle his trail. His remaining necromancers and young adepts have already been sent north as he veers west, to meet just south of the Ford of Abez and make the crossing over the Great River together. 

Now, Malin is left with no one but his ghosts… both those of his past that haunt his mind and his servants, spectres and gaunt spirits. Those ones do not illuminate his way forth, instead huddling around him and hunting after rabbits, mice and other small creatures. They drain the bodies of life, then Malin eats what meat is left, cookied over evening fires. 

It’s strange, Malin reflects, that his best tools in battle are dark spells, cold ones that sap the life from living beings, but now he must turn to the paltry tricks that the mages of Alduin taught him. Bah, what did they know of magic? They never brought back the dead, or summoned ghosts of the fallen, or even dared to reach for the realm of the spirits, too frightened of what mages like Malin were capable of when given the chance. Then again, it’s not like he’s a mighty mage now, just a ruined, infamous necromancer. Maybe not even that, the hell-damned orcs are more likely to remember his vengeful attacks upon them than any humans.

Truth be told, Malin doesn’t expect that he’ll be seeing anyone in this world again, his own followers or his enemies. He’s made it a week into the mountains, but all that means is that he’s too far from any inhabited areas where he could find food or shelter. Perhaps that wouldn’t be a concern if Malin had had the time to study Mage-Lord Karres’ book and carry out the rituals of immortality that he has glimpsed inside, but even the smallest spells have been a terrible strain on his magic. The only dark spell he has cast recently was one to slowly transform him by freezing his blood and turning his bones to stone. It will keep him alive, but only just: if attacked, Malin fears he will not be able to defend himself, as weak to fire as his revenants.

Oh, his thoughts are wandering, he shouldn’t be losing daylight like this. Malin picks himself up off the dusty ground and walks for an hour, maybe more, towards the setting sun until he finds a cave under a small cliff. 

Malin lays himself down on the stone. How strange, it doesn’t feel cold at all. 

He drifts off to sleep dreaming of being back on Alduin, surrounded by magic once more.

Malin wakes, not with sunlight in his eyes but a glaring torch. He notices the heavy rocks and chains binding him, and then the fighters that surround him as his eyes adjust.

Dela is standing by one wall. His sister is holding her spiked staff and wears Parthyn’s green and blue, though the colours are faded and the cloth in sore need of patching. Malin tries to muster up a smirk, but probably only manages to grimace.

A glance out the cave’s entrance tells Malin that it is still far from dawn. “How did you find me?” He tries to keep a confident tone, but it mostly just comes out tired. 

One of Dela’s fighters laughs. It’s a dark sound, and it echoes through the cave. “You left such an easy trail to follow these last few days. Amulets and mages keep your damned-soul ghosts away. You sleep like the dead, ha!”

Dela stares dispassionately at him. “Did you think I would not follow? I vowed to kill you for what you did to our dead, for murdering Drogan, and then took up your trail once more after I heard what happened in Tath.”

Malin swallows. It’s not like there’s any kind of appeal he can make after what he’s done, what his sister knows he’s done. Not from her people either; they’ve fought his undead before and will have no qualms about killing a dreadful necromancer.

“Send my book back to Alduin, will you? I’m sure they’ll wish to” cough “burn it themselves. Not like there’s anyone like me to use it.” There. If Dela’s fighters are the sneaky bastards he thinks they are, one of them might steal it and sell it along to one of the little mages back in Parthyn. Won’t that be a last present for the damned town.

An armored thug coughs. “Will you do it, Dell? I coul d–”

“No, I will.” She stalks closer, her face set grimly.

Malin closes his eyes and hears his sister’s staff come sweeping down.

Then, everything is gone.