Drowning in Snow - Chapter II: It Can't Rain in Iron Pine
Snow took hungrier and hungrier bites from the edges of the trail as Kira and Uriel rode higher into Iron Pine Peak, until they reached the cottage at a cleft between two mountains and found it surrounded by white powder in all directions for a hundred yards. They hopped down and led their horses carefully toward the door. Uriel missed her tireless Eldritch Steed, but two high-ranking Defiants astride chargers that breathed lightning made for poor covert agents.
Kira hitched her mount to the post and peered through the slats of a shuttered window. Heading for the door, she could hear Uriel gasping for breath to speak in the lung-squeezing cold.
"See anything?" said Uriel, the first words uttered on a ride that had been frosty long before they reached Iron Pine. Kira shook her head, then fit her picks to the lock, but there was no need. The latch had been forced some time ago, and Kira simply nudged the door open.
Fluid and silent, Kira slid inside, disappearing into the stifling darkness. Uriel lingered a moment, looking over the exterior. Trails of black ice stretched up the walls like tentacles straining to pull the little cottage underground.
Uriel hurried inside, turning on a jury-rigged sourcestone lamp she noticed standing by the door. "Shiyesa? Shiyesa Wohab?"
Kira tensed for a moment, hand on a dagger's hilt. "So much for subtlety."
"There's no one here," Uriel explained. "She's either hiding or was taken by force. And whoever -- or whatever -- took her isn't likely to stick around."
"No, but they certainly left their mark," Kira murmured, nodding toward the rest of the room. The cabin had been ransacked. Someone had hacked the bed to flinders, yanked out all the drawers from the dresser, and pulled up random floorboards.
The same someone had also carved hideous symbols into the wall with a dagger. Whorling and undulating, lacking any sort of symmetry, the cluster of glyphs pulled the eye toward their center like a whirlpool. It was painful to look at the etchings, as if claws were scratching the same symbols on the inside of one's skull.
"Abyssal," Uriel muttered.
Kira took something heavy off the mantle, tossing it to the Bahmi. "I'd say so."
The statuette nearly slipped through Uriel's startled fingers: a polished coral figure of a squatting man with the head and claws of a crab. "Deep one," she said. "I recognize this piece."
"From the Faceless Man's office," Kira said. "Matched set, deep one and a cephalon. I only saw the cephalon during our briefing."
"So we're here to find a 'low-ranking contact' who has a personal keepsake from the Faceless Man?" said Uriel.
"More than one," Kira said, kneeling by a snowdrift that had tumbled through when the door had first been forced.
Uriel looked over Kira's shoulder, reading the cover of a book half-buried in the gray sludge.
"The Luxury of Trust. You've mentioned it."
"A spymaster's guide from the late Eth Empire. Our boss owns one of the only copies. Or what's left of it." Kira tried to pull the book out of the snow, but the pages had soaked to mushy pulp.
"I'm starting to think Shiyesa Wohab was more than a lowly operative," Uriel said, resting her hand on Kira's shoulder.
Kira's gaze drifted, shying from the touch. "It really is a luxury, you know," she said. "Trust."
Uriel recoiled, cradling her hand as if it had been slapped. Turning to trace the symbols in the walls, she did not see Kira look over her shoulder, draw breath to speak, and then think better of it.
As if to suit the mood, rain began to fall. Uneven globs of water splattered on the windows and roof. A trickle from outside pooled at Kira's boot, and the Rogue whipped her head around. "It can't rain in Iron Pine. It's too cold."
Uriel stared at her wet palm while the glyphs welled up with water that swallowed all light like the deepest abyss. Its briny smell stung deep in Uriel's nostrils.
Kira shouted, "Water Rift!" as something bit the roof off the cottage.
Sawdust flew into Uriel's eyes when she looked up. A whirlpool hovered in the sky, and from its center hung a slick, purplish tendril as wide as a carriage, tipped with four hooked tusks around a blubbery maw. The tendril had torn away the roof, devouring it timber-by-timber. Salt rain filled the cottage as water rushed from the glyphs and rose between the floorboards. In an instant, it was as high as Uriel's knees. Then the entire cottage plunged underwater.
Uriel spun in the whirling debris, casting Warlock Armor just in time to deflect a nightstand that would have cracked her head open. The oblivion of deep water crushed in on her from all sides, the pressure popping her ears. She heard the distant calls of lonesome horrors, fast approaching, and the screams of her drowning horse.
Up from the deep rushed a tremendous crab's head, on the shoulders of a man as tall as a tree, mandibles snapping a few feet from Uriel's leg. She screamed, sending up bubbles, and flung a Void Bolt. Underwater, the black energy moved like a squid's ink, seeping through the deep one's carapace to rot the flesh beneath.
The monster surged toward her, pincers longer than Uriel was tall snapping inches from her belly. The creature roared and its claws opened wide. Before they could slam shut around Uriel's waist, Kira appeared from nowhere in a flash of light. Clinging to the deep one's chitin, Kira jammed her dagger over and over into its black pit of an eye.
The deep one flailed, throwing Kira off, but the Kelari Shadow Shifted again mid-tumble and reappeared behind Uriel as the Bahmi finally began to drown. With her last ounce of strength, Uriel cursed the beast with profane agony, her eyes closing as it began to thrash. Strong legs slicing the water, Kira dragged an unconscious Uriel up toward the surface.
A moment later, Uriel lay coughing up dribbles of the healing potion Kira had poured down her throat, the elixir's magic gently cleansing the water from her lungs. "No rest just yet," Kira told her, stepping back and unsheathing her other dagger.
Kira had pulled them to the very edge of the rift, and the snow was slippery with salt water that had overflowed in rivulets and rivers, streaming downhill. Uriel dragged herself to her knees and faced the countless Water Rifts opening over the snowy valleys bellow, dozens and dozens of huge, toothed tentacles snapping under whirlpools in the arctic sky.