It was just past noon when Einarr and his companions arrived at the wall of ice that marked the glacier. If they had thought to find relief from the heat, they were disappointed. Waves of cold air sloughed off the side of the glacier and left their skin feeling clammy in the heat of the wasteland. They stood for a long moment, taking in the sight before them. The ice sheet stretched as far as the eye could see to their left and their right, its base as red as their boots from the surrounding dirt.
It was Naudrek who broke the silence. “Well? Now what?”
Einarr stared at the dirty ice in front of them, pondering. They had continued east from their camp, and the wall ran from north to south. But it was the svartdvergr they sought, not the foldvergr. “We go north,” he declared.
Everyone but Runa looked perplexed.
“The pale dwarves mostly live in Imperial territory, right?”
Kaldr blinked, nonplussed. “I… suppose?”
“Then it stands to reason the entrance to svartdvergr territory would be farther north.”
Runa stifled laughter.
Naudrek knit his brows. “Why is that funny?”
“He’s right, but for the silliest reason. The svartdvergr live to the north because the north is darker and colder. If, for some unknown reason, you needed to travel to Hel’s domain you’d seek out your entrance in the farthest reaches of the north, and Svartalfheim should be reachable by going north on the High Roads.”
Einarr rolled his eyes. “So I was right. Anyway. We go north, and we’re burning daylight…” Now he frowned. It was already past noon: he turned to face Kaldr, but spoke generally. “If we continue our search, we will not make it back to camp before nightfall. Likely we’ll need to sup on what we brought with us. As far away from camp as the glacier is, I think it might be a good idea to return to camp for the night and move it forward in the morning. …Yes, I believe that is what we must do, unless anyone objects?”
There were some groans, but no-one voiced any compelling objections.
“Good. We’ll mark our trail back to the Villgås as we go.”
And thus began their long trek back to their camp. In the morning, the camp would travel with them as far as the glacier wall.
Their camp, which had thrust up from the plain like a Thane’s hold just the night before, seemed small and insignificant in the shadow of the glacier wall. Runa and Naudrek remained in camp that afternoon to finish setting it up and ensure there was supper to hand while the others began their search in earnest. They covered very little ground that afternoon: Thjofgrir quickly discovered the ground so close to the glacier was treacherous, a thin layer of slippery mud over rock.
They went on like this for three days, moving camp again early on the third. By afternoon of the fourth day, even Einarr had begun to despair of finding the path they sought. And so it was that four of them set out with heavy hearts on the morning of the fifth day, as they had no other options. It was Naudrek’s turn at camp again, to attend to Runa’s (still sparse) needs and guard their provisions.
Around mid-afternoon, they came across another of the numerous cracks leading into the wall. Usually, they sent Vali in to see how deep it went and if there was anything promising about it, and inevitably Vali returned shaking his incorporeal head. This one, however, was far larger than anything they had yet come across – more of a cave than a crack. With a wordless nod, Kaldr stationed himself on guard outside the cave entrance while Einarr and Thjofgrir followed Vali into the ice.
The dampness which had radiated off the glacier walls outside was, inside, as cold as the depths of winter. Einarr’s nose quickly grew red with cold, but he paid it little mind. Five paces in and the light itself turned blue. Fifteen paces in, Einarr paused to trace the sun rune on his shield boss for light. He granted it only a little power, so they would not blind themselves. There were strange black blobs frozen in the ice around them – likely rocks, he thought, but it was impossible to truly tell under the circumstances.
The floor of the cave was covered with a shallow stream of water that flowed under the glacier, so that their every step splashed, and the splashing noise echoed up and down the passage that did not seem to end.
The ice cave narrowed down around their heads, forcing them to crawl on their hands and knees. Just as Einarr was beginning to believe this was just another dead end, though, the cave opened up around them until the light from his shield could not fill the space. Above them in the darkness, crystals glittered like stars. Thjofgrir whistled.
A whisper echoed down the passage behind them. Kaldr must be wondering what happened.
“Come down here!” Einarr called back, hoping the other man could hear him. “We found something!”
Picking randomly, Einarr started off along the left-hand wall. He was surprised to discover that the walls here were stone. “Wouldn’t the glacier destroy this place, then?” he mused aloud.
“Shouldn’t the plains have been cold as we marched for the glacier?” Thjofgrir tossed back.
Einarr barked a laugh. “You’re right. There I go again, expecting this place to behave reasonably, when we’re plainly dealing with magic at a horrendous scale.”
“Exactly!” Kaldr’s Mate grinned back at him. “Glad we’re on the same page.”
Einarr felt a chill – which was surprising, given their surroundings, as he nearly walked through Vali. “What is it?”
The ghost pointed just ahead of himself, where he stared up dumbly at an ornate, rune-carved arch in the wall of the room. “This looks promising.”
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