In the days that followed our revelation about Goldbrook, Angus was resigned in doing anything other than studying the history of the Lycanthrope, and trying to figure out why the creatures might have made their way to this place. Christine and I found ourselves with little to do, but that changed when a Stonehaven soldier arrived with a dire report. The work at the Stonehollow Mine had gone silent.
We decided it was in our best interested to investigate.
The mine was a full day’s ride from the Lodge, and we steered far away from Goldbrook to make sure we didn’t draw any unwanted attention. When we arrived at the mine, it took only seconds to know what had happened to these poor souls.
The smell of death hit our noses, overwhelming us.
We were just about to turn back, when we heard the sound of metal on metal clashing in the distance. We got closer, peering down the mine entrance, and we saw something rather unexpected.
Dead miners. Working.
Their decaying hands still clenched their pickaxes, and they mindlessly worked, breaking rocks and putting them in wheelbarrows to carry off. It was disturbing to see all of these fallen men and women, working even after their lives had ended.
“What happened here?” Christine asked. “Are they Yunai?”
“It has to be their work,” I said. “Although, it could be some other insane experiment like the lycanthrope.”
“So what do we do?”
“We give them a proper death,” I said. “Come on.”
Christine gave a solemn nod and came to my side. The two of us stood in place while I started to summon a firestorm that would put a quick end to most of the minors here. I was just about to kick it off when Christine pulled my attention.
I looked in her direction and saw a man with a torch, a living man, running toward us waving his arms without saying anything.
I stopped my spell and turned toward him as he arrived.
“Hello,” he said quietly. “Thank goodness you’re here!”
“You know what is going on here?”
“My workers,” he said through short breaths. “The all died after we ate dinner. Damn, the food was poisoned! I tried to warn them. I knew it was poisoned. It just didn’t smell right, you know?”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said, trying to calm him.
“After they were dead, I didn’t know what to do. I tried to burn some of the bodies, but I couldn’t make it work. It’s hard to burn people. I might have figured it out, with enough time, but then they started moving again. They are zombies!”
“Who could have done this?” Christine asked. “Can the Yunai reanimate the dead?”
“No,” the man said. “It’s a magic user from Udiria. His name is Arugan.”
“Arugan?” I asked. “How do you know that?”
“It was Arugan,” the man said energetically. “I promise.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s get you somewhere safe, then we’ll clear out this mine.”
The man nodded, and then I sent him spiraling through a portal to the Stonehaven camp that was somewhere nearby. As soon as I closed the portal behind him, I lifted my arm in the air and created a fire vortex. The flame spiraled into the air, then came down upon the poor rotting workers. They were quickly burned away, leaving little more than ash behind. Most of them didn’t even seem to care. They continued their work until they were gone.
“Arugan,” I mumbled. “We should tell Angus.”
Christine shook her head. “No, we’re going to see Ruuna the Blind.”
“She’s a soothsayer,” Christine explained. “She’s lived in the Basalt Dalles for years on end. Some say she was originally one of the soldiers that came up here during the fall of Lederan and the Yunai invasion. She might be able to tell us something we don’t already know. Arugan, the Lycanthrope… why here? Why now?”
“You think she’ll know?”
Christine shrugged. “Why not ask?”
I nodded. “Okay, if you think it’ll help, I’m not going to say no.”
“Good,” she replied. “Now, come on. I need some fresh air.”
We rode in silence for a while, but Christine was never one to stay quiet for long. She always liked to keep some kind of conversation going, especially when she was anywhere near boredom or a dull scene.
“So, your horse,” she said. “What’s with the eyes?”
I looked at Surfal, and he looked back at me, his eyes glowing, and I was reminded of the very reason I was here in the Frozen Realm. I thought about lying to Christine, but that wouldn’t sit well with my heart, so I took a deep breath and decided to give an honest answer.
“They glow because of an ancient Besherman magic. Surfal was mortally wounded during a battle in the world above. One of the Besherman saved his life with healing magic.”
“I forget sometimes that you were up there, in the world above,” Christine mused, looking deep into the horse’s eyes. “Did you ever talk to the Besherman that saved your horse?”
“Her name was Maran,” I said. “She… she died in the Remnants years later.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Christine replied. “I know how you feel.”
“Yup,” she replied. “I was going to be married to a man that I cared for very much. He wasn’t always the strongest when it came to some things, but he was loyal to me. Most importantly, we loved one another. I mean it. We really did.”
“What happened to him?”
“The Yunai. He joined up with the Stonehaven military to fight the Yunai forces in the fallen kingdom of Lederan. I haven’t seen him since. There were rumors his whole group got ambushed, but no one in the military leadership ever had an answer for me. He was just… gone.”
“I’m so sorry,” Sionis replied.
“Me too,” she said, nodding in agreement.
We rode the rest of the way in silence.