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Home » Encyclopedia » Jailbreak
Jailbreak
A rescue mission turns deadly.
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"We're as ready as we're going to get, Trendal," Wemba rasped in the frigid air.

A dull aurora clung to the southern horizon. The wind was calm and the snowfall, for the moment, had ceased. Between the thick clouds above, the moon was reaching its apex. By the light of the small campfire, two dragons finished their paltry rations of dried grains and made to prepare their climbing gear and rucksacks for the journey ahead. A faint metallic rattle could be heard as the shivering tundra, Trendal Rimeshank, gathered together his ice picks and cliff stakes. Taking deep breaths, he tried to calm himself for what was to come.

His companion, Wemba Freezeclaw, a stout female skydancer with unusually thick feathers, drew her mouth into a tight line and laid her talons on his shoulder. "Trendal... this is the clearest weather we could hope for. We have to take advantage of it if we're gonna get there," she stated firmly, gem on her forehead reflecting the light of the dying fire. Trendal took a breath and nodded uneasily in reply.

“Good,” Wemba returned the nod, turning away to cover their campfire with a nearby mound of snow.

After collectively steeling themselves for a moment, the pair rotated to face what looked like a pile of old blankets shoved up against a boulder not twenty feet away.

"Tippa.”

The rag pile stirred.

“We're ready," Trendal whispered, as softly as he could muster over the low moan of wind between the pines.

The rag pile stirred again, and a thin furry head rose from the folds. Heavily lashed eyes set in a stretched face blinked back at Trendal over a low, flat nose. With a flourish, the eyes were quickly encased in a pair of snow goggles, and Tippa’s figure emerged from her cloth nest. The longneck brought herself to height on her hoofed feet and promptly began checking her own gear.

Trendal watched their beast guide as she adjusted her equipment. It wasn't uncommon for dragons to enlist the aid of freelancing longneck trailmasters in the dangerous passes of the Cloudscape Crags. At this altitude, sudden blizzards and temperature drops made flight dangerous, if not deadly, and no other beastclan was more suited to the harsh environment of the treacherous mountain range. Tippa had agreed to navigate them south, but had told them that they were on their own once they reached the blizzardlands that surrounded the southern fortress.

Time was of the essence. A break in the weather like this was unusual - abnormal, even - but they just couldn’t risk flying. Only a fool flies the crags in weather like this. A dragon could take off in clear skies but return home a frozen corpse, wings shredded by the ice and snow of an unexpected squall.

Trendal shuddered, trying not to think about their survival odds. If they hurried, they could make it through the mountain passes within a few days, and from there, Trendal and Wemba would set off by themselves towards the ominous spires. Their destination was not the mighty Fortress of Ends itself - which held brutal, nightmarish creatures from the region's mysterious past – but a smaller ancillary ward: the Dripcave Dregs.

Trendal’s eyes were wrenched closed. Wemba looked over at her friend, her gaze narrowed. “Trendal,” she said sharply. “It was your idea to rescue Magnu. If you let your fear overwhelm you, we will fail.” Trendal opened his eyes and swallowed, forcing dinner back down his throat.

Their friend Magnu had a penchant for seeking and obtaining valuables that weren't his. Wemba warned him repeatedly that he was pushing his luck with the wardens. This most recent theft had been the last straw in their cold, unforgiving eyes. Why didn’t he listen, she thought somberly.

Trendal gazed back at Wemba, the reality of Magnu’s grim situation left unspoken. In a place like the Southern Icefield, you never wanted to reach "the last straw".


--



Tippa moved with ease through the passes, the two dragons following quietly in her wake. When Wemba first suggested hiring the lanky snowhike, Trendal had been more than a little apprehensive. Trusting a longneck, especially given the nature of the heist they were about to embark on, was a preposterous idea.


“You can’t be serious, Wemba!” Trendal exclaimed.

“Look, not all beastclans are members of the uprising. Tippa’s clan probably isn’t even aware of it! They prefer the solitude of the Crags and, quite frankly, making money off of foolish dragons like us,” Wemba said with a sigh. “Look, here she comes.”

Wemba moved to meet the longneck, greeting her with a nod. “Tippa, what is the thing of Talona?”

Trendal flinched, both at the name of the beastclan’s defacto leader and at Wemba’s embarrassing longneck language skills. Generally one does not refer to a clan leader as a "thing".

Raising an eyebrow, Tippa stared at Wemba, and a tenseness hung in the air. The pair of dragons were just about to assume battle stances when Tippa lazily shrugged and presented Wemba with a crude contract for her services.

Later that night, after Tippa had retreated to her blanket pile, Wemba leaned over to Trendal and pointed a talon at the gem-like orb on her forehead. “Besides, don’t you think I’d sense if she meant to hurt us?”



Even with the unusually clear weather, the trio moved very slowly through the Crags. Snow, hidden crevices, and the ever present possibility of an avalanche all dictated their pace. Tippa would make routine stops into nearby rock crops and hollowed out trees to both drop off and acquire rations. At one such stop, just below the peak of the crag they were traversing, she pointed out over the horizon. Gnarled towers of ice were starting to materialize through a far off curtain of snow. The mighty prison cut up the curve of the world like the menacing spindled claws of a giant buried monster breaking the surface.

Wemba swallowed hard and looked at the longneck, who only gave a solemn shake of her head in reply.


--



By the fourth day, a powerful blizzard had caught up to them. The howl of the wind made it impossible to speak so the travelers communicated by tugging on a rope that they had tied between them. Tippa, who had up until this point seemed very confident in her navigational aptitude, was starting to show signs of uncertainty. At several junctions, she had to stop and backtrack due to decreased visibility from the storm.

Snow hurtled sideways across their path and the two dragons took precaution to keep their wings pinned close to their bodies, lest they be swept away by the gales. More than a few times they simply had to stop, seeking the refuge of large boulders or trees to shield themselves. During these pauses, Tippa leaned on her walking stick, eyes set in the direction of their plotted course, issuing a quick whistle if there was a break in the chaos and an opportunity to make progress. It was clear to all three that if they couldn’t get to a lower elevation and soon, they would not leave the Crags alive.


--



Good fortune prevailed, and the path soon started to gradually decline. Tippa, more surefooted on this side of the crag, seemed relieved that the trek was coming to an end. Her pace increased as they descended, making Wemba and Trendal hustle just to keep up.

By the time evening fell, the blizzard had quieted down into heavy snowfall, and the group found themselves staring out over a long, flat expanse. Behind them the mountain loomed in the darkness, its peak shrouded in thick clouds. Tippa pointed across the barren field to a low set of hills decorated with wooden pikes. Dripcave Dregs existed beneath those hills, a sprawling labyrinth of subterranean ice caves and tunnels. Magnu was close. This would be over soon.

Wemba turned to Tippa, who was packing up before heading back to her clan. “Wait! Blizzard was normal? Storms not remember, not in our stories...”

Tippa tilted her head, obviously working her way through Wemba's butchering of her language. After a moment, a grave expression masked her face, and she shook her head ‘no.’ The longneck then picked up her belongings and turned back. Within a few moments she had disappeared into the conifers and they were alone on the glacial plate.

"Let's go get him," Wemba broke the silence.

Trendal didn’t respond, his eyes blank as he stared across the ice field. “Who?”

“Oh dear,” Wemba said, throwing a wing around her friend, guiding him forward. “You let the stress get to you, didn’t you?” The skydancer smiled affectionately at Trendal. “You’ll know him when you smell him.”

“Who?”

“Let’s go, Trendal. We’ll find somewhere for you to rest.” Wemba sighed with a smile. Tundras...

--


Much to Wemba’s relief, there was a cave nearby. Trendal promptly passed out as soon as they had stopped moving. She watched her friend snoring softly, taking the moment of respite to think about how they would proceed. One thing was for sure: they would have to wait until the wardens performed a shift rotation in order to slip in. A chill went through her. Wemba realized they had no idea how long the shifts were, let alone where their window of opportunity was. She made her way over to Trendal and settled herself next to him. She stared up at the cave’s low ceiling, unsure of their future, but before long, exhaustion caught up to her. Wemba could feel her eyes drooping and not even the knowledge that they were woefully unprepared could keep her awake. “I guess...we could both use a nap after that climb..."

Hours later, Wemba and Trendal were shocked awake by a sudden rush of wind into the cave. The world outside was nothing but a sheet of white, and ice violently whipped the air.

Trendal groaned in despair at the almost total loss of visibility. They could see no more than a few yards.

Wemba, however, almost crowed in delight. “This is our opportunity, Trendal! With the blizzard back in full force, the guards are gonna have as much visibility as we do! We can sneak right past!”

The two scrambled to gather their belongings and, bracing themselves against the cold, headed out into the storm. Buffeted hard by strong frigid gales, they could only rely on Trendal's superior sense of smell to lead the way. Wemba was surrounded by walls of snow on every side and could barely see her friend as they trekked. As she opened her mouth to request he slow down, a chilling sound rocked the landscape.

Hollow.

Booming.


Terror washed over Wemba when she realized that the howls of the blizzard were almost completely drowned away by this sudden noise. They froze immediately, looking around for the source, but when a second bellow rumbled through, it came from all around them.

A sudden flash of darkness to their left.

Another flash to their right, closer than the first.

After a tense moment of near silence, the sound came again. This time it was clear: This sound was coming from a creature. A third horrifying moan blared out forcefully; it was on them and around them. Hot fetid breath washed over their backsides. Wemba and Trendal stared at each other, eyes wide, as another breath of foul air rolled over them. With a shriek, the two took off, scrambling through the thick snow and winds as fast as they could.

They ran for what felt like hours, desperately trying to keep their wings from being bogged down by the violent storm. Every few moments, the companions would have to halt themselves as the dark shapes bolted across their path. Instinctively, this urged them to run in the opposite direction and Wemba was sure that they had backtracked several times. They were running in frantic circles. After the skydancer had lost sight of Trendal, she paused to catch her breath. When she did, she lifted a wing and realized in horror that her feathers, her wings, were heavy with ice. She was freezing over.

“NO!” she choked. I have to find shelter, I have to get out of this. I have to find Trendal! Wemba gasped, tripped, and landed face first into wet snow. If my feathers are freezing over, then Trendal’s fur is...

The skydancer painfully forced herself up and continued through the storm. As she moved, the flashes of darkness returned.

With every turn, another shadowy mass forced her back. Wemba rounded again, staggering under the weight of her frozen feathers, and was blocked by a stygian blur. A pattern started to emerge. The dark figures in the snow would only allow her to move in one direction. If she walked straight they left her alone, but when she tried to turn or retreat, they would assert themselves again. She screamed in rage, desperate to find her friend, pleading for the ordeal to end.

Wemba tripped, this time on a wooden pike, nearly impaling herself in the stumble. She was near the entrance of the Dregs. Once past the barricade of pikes, the open mouth of a cave yawned into view. In a brief moment of clarity, she noticed that the wardens were suspiciously absent. After a careful scan of the nearby area, she caught sight of Trendal within the cavern. The slender tundra was on his side. Uttering silent damnation to the shadows that pursued them through the trees, she made her way to her friend. Her frozen feathers made it difficult to stand, forcing Wemba to crawl and pull herself across the frozen ground.

A wrenching fear lurched in her stomach. The tundra had been soaked to the bone, and the bitter cold turned his wet fur into Trendal-colored icicles. His breaths were shallow and quick. Alive, but not conscious.

“Oh, Trendal, I’m so sorry, I’m so so sorry. I’ll find a way to get us out-”

The ground beneath them gave a terrifying shift. Wemba’s head snapped up as the once stable-looking cave floor gave way to a dark gaping hole, sending them plummeting. With a cry, she tried desperately to hold onto Trendal but he slipped from her grasp. Wemba watched him fall away from her, helpless to save him or herself.

Neither felt themselves collide with the cold granite floor.


--



The entire world felt dark and liquid. A dull pain oscillated inside Wemba's skull. As her vision started to phase in, she became aware of how swollen her eyes felt. A dryness gripped her throat, and her crumpled form was like an aching dead weight she wished she could shed, if just for a moment.

After a few minutes she managed a deep breath and tried to wrench her eyes open enough to take in her circumstance. Wemba surmised she was in a chamber, but not much more than that.

"It stirs..."

Her blurred vision could not immediately locate the source of the voice, which had a deep, rumbling, alienesque quality. Strangely, the words did not echo through the chamber, and hung stale in the cold underground air.

"...Trendal?" she whispered. Mustering strength she thought wasn't there, she managed to lift her feathered head from the cold ground to look around. The cavern was massive, with a rough ceiling so high that it receded into blackness. Along the walls, several blue flame torches threw a pale glow across the room. Wemba blinked painfully. It almost looked as if all the surfaces were pure ice.

And there, in the center of the enormous room, she saw him. TRENDAL!

Trendal's fur-covered body lay limp. Gritting her teeth, Wemba pulled herself up and crawled towards him. Sharp pains racked her rear legs and shot up into her back. Hissing, she pushed forward, completely unaware of the shadows beginning to congregate behind her.

"It is alive, but not for long," came the voice again, this time clear and present behind her. Wemba stopped and rounded slowly, unprepared for what she saw next.

Towering above her were three massive forms. Each was covered in a matted shag of long hair which draped over nearly every inch of them. They had rounded snouts with very large lower jaws, and sloping heads that receded into what Wemba assumed to be their manes. Out of each head sprang two very large bone-like horns, each of which was covered in several sharp points, and gnarled into a gradual curve. They had small mammalian ears and piercing white eyes that glowed in the murk. Their quadrupedal forms were held up by thick, muscular legs ending in menacing claws. Small, but frightening wing-like appendages draped from their shoulders.

The most chilling aspect of these strange monsters was that Wemba couldn't shake the feeling that they were Tundra dragons.. But they couldn’t be. Tundras are smaller, softer. Tundras were Trendal. He is a Tundra, not these monsters.

Wemba stared up at them, her mind at its limit. These draconic monsters reeked of an ancient scent she could not even fathom. Their features were exaggerated, as if an artist had taken everything that was meek and appealing about tundra dragons and had warped it into something terrifying. This isn’t happening. They look...

"Ancient," whispered one, answering her thoughts.

Wemba's head swam. She could not guess the age of these beings, but as an impossible thought flitted through her mind, she feared it held the truth.

...I’m looking directly into the eyes of the Icewarden's...

"...first children. We are the Gaolers."





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