1. Journals

The Wyrmblood Glacier Heist

DLC Side Story


A firsthand tale of daring heroism known from place to place in the northern Ironlands has been transcribed here by a certain party, in hopes that it may be put to song or perhaps even theatre by someone better inclined

The footnotes are not intended to appear in any publicized renditions of the tale. They are found only in this single, private draft of the work and consist of dubious asides heard in one or two circles at most. It cannot be verified if these statements truly came from The Jackal himself. Contact with the original source for clarification has yet to be established despite significant efforts, but it appears more likely that the incongruous comments are the work of another individual or group hoping to cast aspersions upon his good name. 

I: The Call to the Darkest Depths

Have you ever felt the shadows?

I don't mean the pleasant cool of the shade, or the suffocating press of darkness on a long, starless night. I mean the shadows.

If you still don't understand, you definitely haven't felt them. And maybe that's because of me.

But let's start this story somewhere a little more concrete. Wyrmblood Glacier, in the northeastern Veils. Nowhere you're gonna stumble into accidentally. Even in the warmest days of summer, the trip's barely survivable. But me, I've gotta give it a shot. I came across this info—won't name my source, for their own safety, you understand—that there's some kinda suspicious group hiding out in its depths. Exactly what their grand plan was, we didn't know. Only that it involved an ancient relic called the Shadowhearth, and it could well threaten the safety of the entire Ironlands.¹

So of course I've gotta offer my services. I'm not aiming to take on the whole group, but they can't make their horrible plans a reality without that relic. And The Jackal is just the man to liberate it from them without causing a scene. So I make my preparations and head out, alone but for my faithful hawk Enthr.

When I arrive at the glacier, it's a sight to behold—an impossible behemoth riddled with centuries and centuries of fissures scratching across it in every direction. And when you know how much more of it is in the depths, far beyond your sight... Well, it's a fitting place for a dashing rogue to pull a world-saving heist.

So I steel myself, hunt down the gaping maw of a fissure that'll take me to the glacier's heart, and head in. It's an easy descent.² But it quickly gets too cold to breathe easy, even with my gear, and I've gotta bundle Enthr up next to me just to keep him from freezing. But that's nothing we can't handle. We've faced much more brutal cold up in the Wastes, when I saved—No, that's a story for another time. Let's stick with the glacier, shall we?

So I climb down into the tunnels. The cold doesn't let up any, but it's not as overwhelming without all the wind. This place is a labyrinth, a whole nightmare spider's web of tunnels crisscrossing at every angle imaginable. A man could lose himself in these paths for years.

At least, a man less sharp than me. See, there's actually a strange pattern to it all. Not quite symmetry, or a sequence... I couldn't describe it to you in words. But I've braved so much twisted terrain in my adventures that I've really developed a feel for these things, you know? A homing sense, almost.³

But there's a lot more to fear in this place than getting lost...

¹Okay, all I actually knew at the time was that something called the Shadowhearth was there, and certain parties would pay very, very nicely for it. And that's all I needed. Look: I hear something is worth money. I decide I will take it. I'm a simple man.

²I immediately fell in a crevasse and got stuck for half an hour. Navigating ice is hard, okay?

³Someone had scratched arrows into the walls. Thanks, whatever weird cultist did that. You may have been ready to destroy a good chunk of the Ironlands, but you sure saved me some trouble.

II: Curses That Bind

I finally emerge into an impossibly wide cave, glistening with ice. The air's thicker here, sluggish, a little less painful to breathe. But there's something wrong with it, too. It's got this palpable foulness, like the souls of your enemies are stretching down from every spot on the ceiling. Then the walls are covered in scratches—no, violent gouges in the frozen rock. They've gotta be ancient runes, nothing I can recognize, but somehow I can still tell... They're curses. Over and over, completely covering the walls as far as I can see. What they're meant to do and to who, I couldn't guess. But this isn't a room I'd like to have an extended stay in.

So I hurry along without a sound, letting Enthr stretch his wings while he's got the chance, until I find this shabby little camp of sorts. There's three men there, all with shaved heads, marked faces, and heavy robes. Doubtless they're part of the group that's supposed to be holing up here.

And it's then that I realize I've only got one man's word on what they're up to. How can I be sure I'm about to steal from the bad guys instead of for one? Sure, the cave's pretty suspect, but that's not exactly hard evidence. I'm not in too deep yet, and there's room to maneuver in this place if push comes to shove, so I decide to have a word with them, see if I can get some idea what they're really about before I do anything I shouldn't.

But the second they notice me, there's already murder in their eyes.¹ I can barely get a word in before they lash out with this... You know how I was talking about the foul strings of hateful souls hanging from the ceiling? Yeah, turns out they can pretty much literally make that happen. Except these are wisps full of shadow, and once they bind you up inside, there's no cutting your way out. I try to reason with the guys, I try to distract them with Enthr, but the foul magic just keeps slicing deeper. I've got no room to breathe, the restraints burn cold, and my blood's soon slicking the ground all around me.

That's when I decide, yeah, these are the bad guys.

Struggling hasn't gotten me anywhere but hurt, but that was just an instinctive reaction, not a real effort. Once I put the full force of my will behind it, no restraints can hold me, magic or otherwise. The strain carves my wounds a little deeper before I finally burst from the bindings.² They dissolve into mist, and the zealots're in too much shock to react before I've got two of 'em down in one strike—the benefits of dual wielding, yeah? Now, the third guy sees his buddies bleeding out and finally looks interested in having a conversation. So I don't take him down right away, but he knows he's on thin ice. He puts his hands up and offers to help me with my quest. I'm suspicious, naturally, but I'm not gonna strike down someone who's clearly surrendering.³

In a surprisingly normal tone, he tells me his name is Wynne. He hasn't been part of the group for long. In fact, he's not really part of it at all. Turns out he's a thief after the Shadowhearth—but only in hopes of profiting from it, pretty shameful—and he infiltrated the group to track it down. He swears he's got plenty of useful intel, he just hasn't been able to act on it. Clearly someone of my expertise could make better use of it. He proposes an alliance.

It's hard to really trust the guy, but I've gotta give him a chance. After all, I can take care of him in a flash if he does turn on me. And the poor guy's shaken as anything. Who wouldn't be, after avoiding my wrath so narrowly? So I agree. Have him keep a lookout while I patch myself up.

Good choice, too, since all those wounds wouldn't do me any favors with what came next...

¹This is probably because I was trying to raid their camp. Woulda succeeded just fine if they hadn't had some stupid magic senses thing going on.

²Technically I used all the blood loss to pretend I was dead and they just dismissed the restraints themselves, but it did get me out! And playing dead is a finely honed skill that I, for one, take pride in. It just doesn't sound snappy enough for a story like this, you know?

³Unless there's obvious reward.

III: Paths of Desolation

Wynne only knows part of the path we've gotta take, since he's never made it that far himself. We quickly get out of that cave, at least, and good riddance. Cramped tunnels and stronger cold is a small price to pay for air that isn't clotted with curses.

I ask some more about the Shadowhearth, but Wynne doesn't know much beyond its monetary value.¹ Must be pretty critical to the cult's mission, if they know better than to leak sensitive info to newcomers. Wynne at least knows the group worships the power of hatred and desolation, so the mission's probably got something to do with spreading that. How the Shadowhearth figures into it, we don't know.

There's not much time to chat before we run into a little desolation ourselves. The tunnels on this level are a lot harder to get lost in, but they're not as stable. At first it's just the occasional chunk of ice falling, a couple more cracks in the ground. By the time we reach the next cave, you've gotta bound over valleys to keep moving forward. And Wynne, bless his poor little soul, is having a lot more trouble than the guy with, you know, horrible fresh gashes all over him.

But the cave we finally make it to? Even worse. There's more chasms than there is solid ground. Enough cracks dig into every other surface that it can't be safe to cross anywhere. Even chunks of the cave roof are lying broken on the ground like dead wyverns. Some pieces have got this weird smoothness to them, like they were melted instead of shattered. But it's hard to focus on those details when Wynne announces our goal is past this mess.

So! Time for a party of three to cross a frozen cave on the verge of its final collapse. What could possibly go wrong?

I send Enthr ahead to find safer spots to cross, but he can't get far before he's gotta come back to bundle up again. With the state this place is in, we can't sit and wait for him to warm up. We've got our first few moves, and I've got my instincts, so I tell Wynne to watch his step and try to keep up.

The ground keeps shifting with awful creaks. Even the more stable spots could snap my ankle if my foot falls wrong. But I won't slow down. This could be our only chance to get across. 

It's rough, but of course I make it across in the end. I make sure Enthr's still all right and turn to check on Wynne.

He's about three steps away from where we started. Looks way too terrified to go any farther.

Somehow I always forget this kinda thing isn't so dead easy for people who... you know. Aren't me.

I try to offer some encouragement, but between the shatter of falling ice and the breadth of the cavern, my voice can't make it far enough. He doesn't budge. The whole place is gonna fall apart any minute. Do I go back for him?

It's not even worth asking. For better or for worse, he's my ally now, and that means I'm not leaving him behind. What if somebody found the bodies at that camp? They'd know right away Wynne turned on them. And what a group priding itself on the depths of its hatred would do to a traitor... None of my guesses are pleasant.²

So I dash back, pick him up, and pour every last ounce of speed I've got into this. Of course, putting more weight in one place means every step's less stable than it was the first time. Two strides in, the ground gives out beneath me. I can't trust Wynne to hold on in his state, so I'm down to all of one hand to catch both of us.³ It's still easy for The Jackal, of course, but the strain on all those fresh wounds sure doesn't feel great! 

Despite the cave's finest efforts, we make it across. The next tunnel isn't much better than the last one, but it's still stable enough to take a short break in. You know, in hopes poor Wynne can finally get ahold of himself. 

And we'd need to be in top shape for our next encounter...

¹Same, buddy, same.

²Oh, like I care in the least about any of that garbage. But if you've got an inside man, you keep him. They're too valuable an asset. At least in theory. This guy's so pathetic it's still a hard call to make.

³I am regretting my decision immensely. Very tempted to just drop him here. Throw, if necessary.

IV: The Dark and the Hollow

As we pick our way through another set of ravaged tunnels, I hear the very edge of a sound. Not cracking, although that's still going around. More like... a call. Wynne doesn't notice it, and it's died out by the time I get him to keep things down. We bound across another good few crevasses before I hear it again. It's enough to freeze my blood solid.

How could I possibly describe it? Okay, let's try... Imagine the wail of a dying man. The grief, the pain, but most of all the anger—fury and anguish so palpable you know he'll find vengeance for this in his next life. Someway, somehow. This sound's got an echo of that feeling. But there's something else to it. An undercurrent like nails on glass, something that scratches its way into your mind and clings there. A predator waiting for its chance to pounce and rip you apart—but not on the outside. Just in your head. Maybe that's more terrifying. You may not get injured, but your very will could be torn right out and replaced with someone—something—else's.

Or, well, I'm sure it'd be terrifying for youI've got nothing to be afraid of, of course.¹ Whatever the threat, I won't go down without a fight. Even I'm not totally invincible, so I've gotta stay on my guard. There's a terrible magic at work here. And since the whole strategy of this heist is stealth, I'm not looking for more mind-breaking trouble than necessary. It's easy enough to find an alternate route, away from the wailing. A little sketchier as far as falling ice pieces, but I move fast. It's fine.

We make it to another cave whose fractures, cracked and melted alike, are just as bad. And something's not right with the way shadows fall across the ceiling. I've gotta stop to observe before I can place what I'm seeing—a nightspawn. At least three times my size, but it's hard to say exactly. There's this blur around the edges of the thing. You can see the horrible little bones sticking out where they shouldn't, you can see the wings that dwarf a wyvern's, you can see the beady eyes full of malice, but it's hard to get a grip on anything else. Nightspawns are creatures of shadows. Territorial creatures of shadows, whose den we just strolled into. And here's the real kicker: none of my attacks are gonna hit this thing. The only way to fight it is to reflect its own magical attacks back. Oh, did I forget to mention it can control ice?

So in summary, my options are: sneak past (normally very simple, but how do you keep to the shadows when your enemy is the shadows?), double back (towards the soul-snatching dark magic, no thanks), or march in and draw some fire so I can fight back.

What can I say? I'm a guy who likes to fight back.

So I dive right in. Make sure I'm far enough that collapsing the cave outright'd hurt the nightspawn as much as it'd hurt me. Then all it can do is shoot off some projectiles and try to muck up my footing. But good luck making me trip, right? Still makes things rough, having to skirt attacks without dodging them altogether, but it's nothing I can't handle. I've got my twin daggers, of course—pure black iron, by the way—and with those, redirecting a few deadly ice beams and some frozen shrapnel is child's play. And while that thing can dish it out, the nightspawn only takes a few good hits before it comes crashing down. I don't think I kill the thing so much as stun it, but all the better. I'm just trying to make it through this place. More carnage means more chances for somebody to figure out there's an intruder.²

And where I was headed next, I definitely couldn't afford to be discovered...

¹Almost true, in those exact words. But it's less a matter of knowing I'd win the fight as... Well. We'll get there when we get there.

²I think I just forgot about Wynne's entire existence somewhere in here? He's not that important, it's fine. Apparently he survived. Good for him.

V: Those Hidden in the Ice

Just when it seems like we're past the worst, most ravaged, most I'm-surprised-it's-not-covered-in-Edge-of-Worlds space here—boom! Massive chasm. Cuts down too deep to even see the bottom, where I can hear water crashing. Which, of course, is worse news than the ice—this stuff's gonna give you hypothermia in five seconds flat if you fall in. And the width of the chasm? Even I've got no hope of jumping this thing, and I've pulled off some pretty impressive leaps in my time, if I do say so myself. There's no way around the sides, either. Unless I feel like giving a makeshift hang glider a shot, it's about time to double back towards the nightspawn and hope it's not too upset with me.

Or, that's my thought, until Wynne says this is the path to the Shadowhearth. Across the chasm? No. Down it. There's a secret entrance hidden in the icy face of this sheer cliff. Not that he knows how far east or west or down it is. But I'll make do. 

get our rope set up, but the edge of the chasm isn't as stable as it looked. Almost like it's trying to melt, even though it's nowhere near warm enough. But I'm not turning back now. We'll just have to move fast. Without slipping. Or falling, into the deadly cold water. Or getting lost or stuck when we barely know where we're going in the first place. Easy peasy, right?

Once again, Wynne doesn't like going fast, but he's just gonna have to deal with it. We can't afford a leisurely tourist pace here. The ice is groaning, and it's hard for even me to keep a good grip in this cold. Bearing Wynne's weight again isn't helping, either.¹ But even as ice cracks and snaps and echoes clear to the surging black waters, we hurry down. 

And then, maybe five feet above the void of certain freezing death, there's an opening. It's clearly manmade, a narrow wedge carved deep into the ice. Doesn't look like it's made for two people, but the cliff's threatening to crumble any second. I time our release as well as I can, and we plunge inside. It's a semi-nasty spill for Wynne, but I stick the landing easy enough. Unlike the other tunnels, it looks like this thing's a straight shot. We can't be far from our goal now, I can feel it. 

When we finally emerge... it's not into another cave. A whole icereach spreads out wide all around us. Hard to be sure if that's the open sky overhead when everything's the same blinding white, but the bitter wind is back. Enthr won't be leaving my side anytime soon. Visibility's awful to boot, so my best bet going forwards's gonna be trusting my instincts.

We make it a ways across the frozen-solid sea before we run into something—or someone. At first, all I see is a muddled figure trapped deep within the ice, but once I get a closer look, it's clearly a person. Frozen through and through. No idea how long he's been stuck here, or the next time someone'll pass by. Any cultists sure aren't gonna care if he can be revived or not. And they aren't around to catch any of us at the moment. So I've gotta see if there's any hope of freeing this poor guy.² Melting this whole sheet of ice isn't gonna happen, so I try to break him out, get him in a chunk of ice small enough I could actually warm it a little bit. I smash and carve my way through what I can, but all I free is the compass on his belt. A black iron compass, in fact—nothing he'd wanna lose to the elements. But there's sound in the distance now, and we can't afford to stay here. So I hold onto the compass myself—for safekeeping, just until I can return it, of course. Not like the owner's gonna be moving anytime soon.

Now, the thing about black iron compasses is—well, obviously, a real one's gonna be high quality and high price, but that's not our concern at the moment. More importantly, they point north just fine... unless a powerful source of magical energy is nearby. Then the needle'll bend that way. And right now? This thing's pointing due east.³ It's gotta be the Shadowhearth. Whatever the relic actually does, it must be even stronger than I thought.

So with a solid direction now, we keep moving forward. But we're not gonna make it much farther together...

¹At least I'm not bodily hauling him this time. Obviously I could've handled that, but between the strain this is putting on my injuries and then Wynne being a babbling little nutjob, the temptation to drop him would've been way too strong. 'Cause I mean, I coulda taken care of him for good there in, oh, five seconds.

²Or his valuables. Mostly his valuables. I can see some possible black iron right there, man. Gotta go for it.

³I was completely unaware of the super-magic-pointy-thingy part at the time. Just figured I got turned around somewhere, with the absurd amount of snaking tunnels and possibly some kinda magical warp through space to the icereach. I have a fantastic sense of direction, but this has just been ridiculous.

VI: Greedy and Bitter Waters

We stay undetected, but even with a clear direction now, it's still a very long walk. Wynne decides to ask how we plan to spend our shares of the profit when we sell off the Shadowhearth. Which is a senseless question to me for obvious reasons¹, but I'll at least hear him out. Conversation's good for distracting you from the brutal, burning cold. 

Apparently his grand dream is to go on a proper wyvern hunt. But that's easier said than done—and if you've run into any wyverns yourself, you know it's not easily said, either. It takes preparation, training. The supplies you've gotta stock up are gonna cost you, too. Add in the necessary "gift" to the hunters' homestead, and I can see why you'd need a real payday to get that ball rolling. But ever since an iron wyvern took out half his village, he's been determined to repay the favor.²

Before he can ask about my own plans, we hear the rush of water again. Farther ahead, we find a saltwater channel still burbling along, like there isn't a massive field of solid ice in every other direction. On one bank, carved deep, there's an inscription. In flowery language I won't attempt to reproduce, it strongly implies we've gotta dive in there to reach our goal. And I'm guessing it's not gonna be any warmer than the last five-second-hypothermia trap we came across. But our other option's to just keep running ourselves ragged on a frozen sea with no end in sight. So Wynne volunteers³ to scout the thing out, but he asks me to check around for any other inscriptions, in case there's some method to this besides jumping in wholesale. Seems like a good idea to me, so I start spiraling out from there to search.

Which means we aren't exactly at each other's side when the maelstrom hits.

The ice splits, and before even I can run across, the broken pieces get upended like grave markers. The vortex swirls and roars with the voices of the dead—everyone it's taken. It spreads, but the rhythm's getting more consistent, and I can jump from ice shard to ice shard without too much trouble. But Wynne's already beyond sight. Floes are swirling down into the depths piece by piece, with more and more breaking off from the sheets all around. Everything's in motion, in every direction, but I manage to pick out a vantage point in this mess and hurry over. Once I'm there, I can tell it's the tip of some kind of rock—maybe the only stable place in this sea right now. But try as I might to locate Wynne,⁴ all I can see is the gaping, frothing mouth of the maelstrom. And its waters are coming for me.

If I run, I lose my chance to get the Shadowhearth and my chance to save Wynne. So I just brace myself on the rock as the water hits. It's exactly as bitterly cold as you'd expect, and it's no normal freezing wave—the maelstrom's a living thing. Reaching for me, straining to rip me away and down into its depths. But even when I can't feel my hands at all—can barely feel the rest of me, for that matter—I keep holding on. I mean that literally, but it's hard to stay conscious in this onslaught, too. By the time I realize the maelstrom has finally died down, it takes me another minute to figure out why. Some powerful sorcerer come to our aid? Some countering pulse from the Shadowhearth itself?

But a little magic wouldn't stop a maelstrom like that. No, these only quit when their hunger for souls has been sated.

That's when I know I've lost Wynne.

But I don't have time to mourn. I'm soaked and beaten, and I can hear the crackle of my clothing as it starts to freeze over. I've gotta get warm fast, or I will die.

But then I think of that inscription. If I'm gonna follow its instructions, I might as well do it while I'm already in the water, right? Oh, there's no guarantee that'd be the best route. It could still very well kill me. But I came here with more than my life at stake. This is about saving the Ironlands. Of course it's worth the chance.

I take a deep breath and dive in.

Immediately there's a downward pull, and for a second I think the maelstrom's starting back up. But no, this is just a normal current. Strong, but normal. I try to swim with it, get through faster, but I can barely get my numb limbs to move at all. Instead I catch glimpses while I'm being pulled through. Human bones, scraps of winter clothing, shattered weapons. That maelstrom took plenty of souls before Wynne, and not all of them so long ago.

The current spits me out onto some kind of ground. Don't care what it is. I've got to get dry, now. Enthr, too. And in my state, even a simple task like that requires every bit of my worn-down focus.

But I'd manage. And soon I'd find there was something very off about where I'd landed...

¹At no point have I ever planned to share the proceeds, thank you very much.

²Considering this man's general level of determination, I don't see this ending well.

³After some very mild threats.

⁴I'm not trying very hard.

VII: Warm Breath and Cold Blood

The thing about freezing to death is, it's not this simple "everything goes numb and then you're dead" deal. Anyone who's gotten close enough knows what I mean—not feeling the cold anymore is one thing, but once you start feeling warm again, you're really in trouble. So when I'm out here on another expanse of snow, with a massive ice shelf blocking off most every direction, the second I start feeling warmer, my first assumption's that I'm gonna die after all. Despite getting the wet clothes off¹, despite getting a fire going, despite taking a warming herbal remedy. 

But time passes. I'm still not dead, and my senses are starting to trickle back in. Slowly I figure out that it really is warmer here. The channel's still spitting out cold water, and I'm not gonna call any part of this glacier balmy, but it's... almost pleasant, even in my state of undress¹. Despite the fact that I'm definitely sitting on snow and ice that aren't even close to melting. That's sure a mystery, but now that I'm not actively dying and nobody's trying to change that, I finally stop for a minute to mourn Wynne. Don't know if I'll ever find any pieces of him the maelstrom didn't destroy, but I've at least got enough info to get news to his village. Tell them he went down fighting.²

But those are worries for another time. Right now, I've gotta find the Shadowhearth. There's this sort of prickle in the air now—I can feel that I'm close. It's time to keep heading "north." I put on whatever's dry enough, make sure Enthr's good to fly, and get moving. 

As I go, the sheets of ice underfoot start turning into floes. Even if it's warmer here, taking another dip in the water doesn't appeal to me, so I hop along carefully. The pieces end up small enough that it takes real concentration to get across, and I don't realize I'm not alone anymore until it's already too late. There's nowhere to hide without going under, but this is the kinda enemy I'd rather face head-on, anyway.

The group of hooded followers approaches, and we meet on stable-enough ground. Naturally they're a little suspicious, since I'm not exactly dressed like them.³ Still, I've got enough info on the group that, with my skills, I have no trouble convincing them I'm one of their own. Unfortunately this gets me dragged into the procession, which is very much going away from the Shadowhearth. But I'm not worried. I'll find my chance. In the meantime, I ferret out whatever information I can. Sounds like they just now determined the Shadowhearth's one step closer to what they need. Can't ask for much detail if I don't wanna blow my cover, but I do get this much: they're planning to unleash a huge radius of devastation to give their god a path into this mortal world. Make it comfortable, give it a new home here where it can better spread the depths of its dark hatred. No matter how many Ironlander souls it may cost. 

Now, that's enough info to make me wanna hurry things up a little. I finally find my chance to slip away. Gotta take the longer way around to keep out of sight, but it'll be worth it, I think... At least until I cross a massive trog nest. Seems like they were a little testy already—maybe the warmer weather?—and my arrival's enough to get them swarming. Which is not a pleasant experience. Even I can't avoid taking a few bites—And you ever been bit by a trog? Every single tooth rips you up worse coming out, like they're a buncha little arrowheads. I take the whole nest of man-sized reptiles down, sure, but then I've gotta stop to patch up all the new leaks. Not sure how much blood I've lost in total now, but it's a lot more than I'd recommend to anyone.

Unfortunately, trogs aren't known for fighting quietly, and the group of cultists finds me licking my wounds. I try to convince them I got separated on accident, but they're not listening anymore. Whatever fight I can put up while bleeding from every wound in the book isn't enough to keep their shadow restraints away. It looks like they've decided I'm not one of them after all—and if that's true, I know too much. 

But they won't just kill me then and there. Their plans are a little more complicated...

¹Calm down, ladies.

²This is definitely not true of him, and none of these thoughts even remotely passed my mind. The guy served his purpose, and I wouldn't have to deal with his whining anymore. Thank Njord.

³Thanks for dying somewhere I couldn't loot your body, Wynne! Real convenient. What an ally.

VIII: The Belly of the Beast

The magical restraints are still on me tight when they throw me into their special holding cell. And what's so special about it, you ask? Well, it's actually the great, frozen carcass of a long-gone wyrm. That odd warmth is still outside, but the second I pass through the wyrm's massive teeth, it's colder than ever—deep to my heart in an instant. Their plan's for me to freeze to death here while they get their news on the Shadowhearth to whoever's in charge. Then they'll come back and throw me to the maelstrom once I really, truly can't put up a fight. They don't venture inside themselves, and I start to figure out these restraints get weaker the farther they go. So I'll just have to hold out until they've gone far enough.¹

Easier said than done when I can barely draw breath in this overwhelming cold. By the time they send in one unlucky guy to strip me of my possessions, I'm already too weakened to break the restraints. And when I say "my possessions," I mean everything. They'd really rather me freeze sooner than later. They even come for Enthr, but I fend them off long enough for him to escape. Part of me wonders if that's the last soul I'll ever rescue... but no. I've got no business acting like this could be the end. The Jackal doesn't lay down and die.

But the group leaves with all of my weapons and defenses, and one guy stays to guard the only entrance to the great wyrm prison. At least she's not too good at the restraining magic—that, or she just doesn't see reason to bother at this point. I'm unarmed, hawkless, and pretty actively dying. So it's a fair enough assumption. Or, well, it would be, if I was anyone else. Going toe-to-toe with her's not gonna be my best option, though. I'm gonna find a smarter way to do this.

First step: get her talking. It's hard for a true devotee to resist questions about what this carcass is. Apparently my prison is the last great wyrm of the glacier and the original guardian of the Shadowhearth. Exactly how they were connected she doesn't know, but it's something deep and mystic, and it didn't end with the wyrm's death. Now, that beast's soul is bound to the maelstrom, devouring life energy to keep powering the Shadowhearth. With every hapless soul consumed, the artifact grows stronger, the world around it warmer, and the old husk of the wyrm colder.

Which is all very nice to know, sure, but mostly I'm using that monologue as an opportunity to slink farther into the shadowy depths of the prison. I feel some cracks in these frozen bones. The guard doesn't say what actually killed the wyrm, but I'm getting the impression it was crushed. So there's gotta be a chink in the armor here I can use. I've already busted through solid ice once today—time to see how brittle the long-frozen flesh of a dead wyrm is.

Brittle enough to smash through. Solid enough to, eh, break my hand in a few places, but who's counting?

I beat my way to the outside before the guard knows what's happening. There's already some distance between me and the mouth of the wyrm, but it's time to add a lot more. I'm in horrible running shape, and still actually dying, even if the air's warm enough to breathe again. But none of that's stopping me. If anything, this is the kind of pain that makes you feel more alive, isn't it? The ecstasy of pushing your body far, far past what it was ever meant to handle?²

So I'm out of the wyrm. No weapons, no gear, definitely no compass to point the way, but that I don't need anymore. I can taste the Shadowhearth's power in the air by now. It's so close. I've just gotta keep going. Get some blood back in my limbs. Call Enthr back to me. Come across an old ship trapped in the ice—nothing battle-worthy, but still with a few sorely-needed supplies I can take. Enough to keep me moving forward.

And I don't have much farther to go before I finally reach the Shadowhearth itself...

¹Unless I can trick them into letting me out. But the attempts to grovel and beg for my life don't fly. Unfortunate. But, well, if it worked, it woulda been harder to spin for the tavern story, anyway. Doesn't have the same heroic overtones, y'know?

²This whole little spiel is extremely cool and poetic, and people need to stop looking all concerned about it. I swear, they'll let any pansy into a tavern these days.

IX: Sweltering Shadows

I'm hurtling forward across this seemingly endless plain of ice. Then, without the slightest bit of warning, everything goes dark as the blackest iron. Even in my condition, I know my senses aren't failing me. The air's thick here, heavy with ancient magic and the beastly spirits that once wielded it. This is the Shadowhearth's realm. 

And I barely move through the dark at all before I find the relic itself. The heat it gives off is enough to guide my hand, slowly, slowly—and when I finally seize it, it's burning hot. At least, that's the impression I get. My palms don't feel much, so I can hold it without any trouble. It's smooth, oval, not much bigger than a good piece of Hearth Amber, and strangely light. Even with one hand barely movable, I can easily handle the thing.

At least, physically. But the second I touch it, every bit of its power sings through my bones. Every ounce of energy that the wyrm, then the maelstrom, stripped from centuries of victims, now at my command. I'm not sure what I can do, not exactly, but the feeling's still intoxicating. I'm not letting go of this thing.

In the back of my mind, I can barely feel that something's not quite right. Some of those shadows are scratching at me, somewhere in there. But compared to the absolute flood of power? It hardly seems worth noting.

So the Shadowhearth is mine. Time to get out of here. The darkness surrounds me as I go, but it doesn't keep me from seeing properly—not with the relic in hand. I haven't realized yet that I'm using its power to do this. That I'm welcoming the shadows deeper into me with every step. I just know it feels wonderfulSo with all my newfound energy, I make good progress before the cultists find me. They must've assembled their entire force. There's easily fifty, maybe even a hundred of them. And they're not too happy I'm making off with their artifact.

But I'm not too happy they're in my way.

It's hard to describe what happened next. Their magic can't touch me anymore. And physical attacks? Likewise. I think what's happening is, I'm flickering in and out of the shadow realms. Present enough to know who's there to hit, absent enough to keep their hits from connecting.

By then, I'm starting to realize something really is wrong. I can hear the Shadowhearth's voice. Feel its all-encompassing hate, the growing compulsion to destroy. But there's no way I can stop using it, not here. I'm in no shape to fight or evade this many people, and I'm definitely not leaving this power in their hands. So for now? I just embrace it. Channel all the power I can bear. And the next thing I know, everyone there has been wiped out. Not sure how. There's a tang of ash to the air. Shadows that cling to their bodies unnaturally tight. But the followers are gone. Every last one of them.

When the dust settles, it's not the ordinary satisfaction of a warrior's victory I feel. It's ecstasy at the sheer destruction of it all. A need to cause more. I'm moving again before I know it. Scour half the glacier for stragglers before my mind can catch up with what's happening. Chilled despite the burning warmth in my grip, I wrest some control back, but the Shadowhearth's voice is still there. Stronger now. Overwhelming. Telling me I must find more to destroy. Feed to the maelstrom. Make it stronger. Make me stronger. 

And in that moment, I want nothing more than to comply any way I possibly can. 

That's the terror of power, isn't it? Even in your right mind, it's never enough. There's always something else you could feed it. Some other part of yourself you could give up. And don't you want to? If you're gonna put the power to good use, then won't it be worth it, in the end?

But that's not how it works. I know that. But by this point I've given the shadows so much sway I can hardly hear my own thoughts anymore. Hardly remember I'm here to keep this out of the wrong hands, not to just keep destroyingI can't tell what my body's doing anymore beneath the haze. The Shadowhearth's at the reins now. And the sheer willpower it'd take for me to seize control again is beyond imagining.

But you know what? That's just fine. I may be strong, I may be fast, I may be clever. But my greatest strength has always been my force of will. If the Shadowhearth had claimed anyone else, I'm not sure they could've fought back, in the end. Not after miring themselves so deeply into its influence.

But I fight. I drive the voice of the shadows back. And the moment I claim enough of my will back for myself, I channel every bit of magic left to me... and destroy the Shadowhearth with its very own power.

If it wanted desolation, that was the way to go. The explosion is incredible. To this day, I don't know how it didn't kill me. Slammed me into the ice hard enough to crack it—gave me this nice new scar on the back of my shoulder here, see? But what it did to me pales in comparison to what happened to the glacier. Between the force and the heat, the whole thing's falling to pieces fast. So I have to pour every last ounce of strength that I frankly don't have anymore into getting outta there.

But me and Enthr, we made it out alive. The cult, the maelstrom, the Shadowhearth? Not so much.

So... Have you ever felt the shadows? If not, you might just have me to thank for it.

X: Apocryphal Addendum

The full account of the Wyrmblood Glacier Heist has been faithfully reproduced above. For the sake of a complete collection of story variances, however, an additional entry is appended here. Through much effort, this ending has been traced to a certain untrustworthy bartender who will neither confirm nor deny that they personally constructed it in its entirety. This addition is markedly inconsistent with both the previously established account and The Jackal's general strength of character, so it is the opinion of this party that the entry below is no more than utter fabrication. Whether its creator had narrative qualms with the tale's true ending or if this was merely another attempt to slander our hero has not been determined. While both rarely spoken and factually inaccurate, this is indeed a sometime heard iteration of the tale, so it is nonetheless included in this private collection. 

The Shadowhearth never said a word to me. Never had to. All it really made me feel was this sort of... resonance? Like it belongs with me. Same kinda feeling as slipping on a nice custom-fitted glove. But what kind of hero tells you he feels perfectly in sync with a relic of hatred and desolation? Not a good one, that's for sure!

But that's what I feel. That resonance. Every part of me that already tends toward those things? They're growing stronger by the minute. Or, that seems right... but it's funny. Everyone I came across during all that... Couldn't say I felt an ounce of hate for them. Maybe that part just didn't hit me, for some reason. Did still feel that hint of wrongness, though. The shadows. But if anything? I kinda liked the feeling. That maybe they'd destroy me.

...What? Sorry. Um... As for the cultists, there were probably... fifteen? Twenty?—left. They didn't muster any forces to stop me. That guard must not've been in any hurry to get the word out, because everybody was still minding their own business. Including the people who took my stuff. And I am not leaving this place without every single thing I brought into it. Have I mentioned those daggers are expensive?

So that's where I'm headed. Doesn't take any fancy magic for the shadows to get stronger as I move along. They just do. Seep deeper in, make themselves at home. It's kinda soothing, somehow. Having something else there, that should be there, taking over. Still couldn't say they're controlling me. Several times through all of this, it crosses my mind that I could try pushing them away. That I ought to, before there's no turning back. But honestly? I can't find it in me to care. Maybe they'll fully control me, eventually. Maybe they'll corrupt every part of my mind they touch until you couldn't call what's left me. But so what? Go right ahead. There's no one here worth fighting for. Just take it all. GOOD RIDDANCE.

I—Where was I...? Right. So... I find the group with my stuff. There's four of them, I think? Hard to remember every piece of this. That's not a shadow thing, though, just happens all the time. Anyway, I end up killing them, probably self-defense. It's too easy to even call a fight. Still couldn't tell you what the Shadowhearth's power actually does, but I don't think they could see me, at the very least. Which, once again, is kinda baseline for me anyway? But with the shape I was in at the time, something weird had to be going on. 

Then I find myself dragging the bodies back to the maelstrom. But isn't it supposed to feed on life energy? These guys're already dead, so will throwing them in even do anything? Maybe I'm just curious. But they must be good enough somehow—when the maelstrom takes them, I immediately sense the Shadowhearth growing stronger. Sense me growing stronger. And it feels so good that I just keep going. Find the guard, throw her to the maelstrom. Hunt down another group, pick them off, offer them up. Another. Another. I'm more shadow than man now. And I love it. How long's it been since I've felt this good, this fulfilled, this whole? Ages. Ages. I can't give this up. This will be my mission now. Keep throwing people to the maelstrom, until this strength is all I ever have to feel anymore, or until I'm gone altogether. Yes, I think that's exactly what I'll do. Keep feeding the shadows. Keep getting stronger. Stay here with the Shadowhearth forever.

But that sentiment's enough to jar me to my senses for half a minute. I'm a wanderer, you know? I'm not staying anywhere.

...But I am here for now. Might as well have the shadows fill me as much as humanly possible before I finally move on. Best of both worlds.

So I hunt. Throughout the glacier, every follower I can find, whether they're ready to fight or flee or surrender, I don't care. They're nothing to me but fodder now. And as the Shadowhearth's power grows, it takes less and less effort to kill them off. Don't know how many there end up being, but I pick the place clean. The Shadowhearth's burning darker now. The heat's melting things away. Weakening the ice. Digging more fissures into the ground. The shadows are so deeply entrenched in me now, I can't remember what it was like to live without them. I couldn't bear to live without them now. I will never push them back. I will let them—no, I NEED them to consume me completely. No part of me is worth saving. Let the shadows take it all. Take it now. DESTROY ME. GOOD RIDDANCE.


I... I was...

...Okay. So, I have no intention of stopping what I'm doing. Gotta go beyond the glacier for fodder now. No circles anywhere close, so it's travelers. Probably have nothing to do with the cult. No reason to die. Kill them anyway. Have to feed the maelstrom. Have to keep this power-high going. Have to fulfill my new purpose. Because isn't it wonderful to have a purpose again?

I deliver the most recent batch of bodies to the maelstrom and start to head out for more. The Shadowhearth is so strong now. Completely intoxicating. Even with my nigh-injury-proof palms, I think it's giving off enough heat to burn me anywhere else close enough. Good. Do all the harm you can. Make it hurt.

...I don't see any cause for alarm. Don't know if I even feel alarm anymore. Nothing left here but power.

I'm at the wall of curses when it caves in. Turns out I can still feel some alarm. But it's not for my wellbeing. I clutch the Shadowhearth to me with both hands, even as it burns into my chest. I don't care, don't care about the ground giving way, don't care about the falling blocks of ice, don't care about anything but keeping my hold on the Shadowhearth at any cost

And I succeed. Even with its power, it's a rough fall, but I at least melt away any debris that's aiming to hit me. Eventually the glacier calms down. Not sure how far the damage spread. Felt like more than this cave for sure. But none of that means a thing. I still have the relic. The power. The shadows. Everything that matters.

Among the dripping and splintering and still-settling rubble, I barely hear the cry. I turn towards it, no sense of urgency, just wondering if some straggler finally showed up—good, an easy kill. But that's not what I see.

It somehow never hit me until then. For that entire stint with the shadows, I forgot Enthr. I have not fed him or watered him or tended to him in any way for days and now he is collapsed and bleeding on the ice.

I drop the Shadowhearth. The second I lose contact, everything snaps back—no shadows, no power, and every ounce of exhaustion and injury I've accrued over the past few days slamming back into me all at once. I try to sprint to Enthr, but my progress is too pathetic to call running. I still make it, eventually. The good thing about ice is, he's not bleeding as badly as he would without it. But it's still too much. Any would be too much. I struggle to treat him as well as I can when I'm falling apart, too. 

And that's enough of this place. We've gotta get somewhere safer. The Shadowhearth pulls my gaze its way. Somehow it isn't melting straight through the ice even though I can feel its heat from here. It'd easily give me the strength to make it out of here, no matter what other dangers I might have to face. 

But I can't bear to touch it again. I can maneuver it into a pouch without making contact, but that only makes my burden a little heavier. It won't lend me its strength without contact. But it is what I came here for, and I hate to leave empty-handed. So I try to ignore the heat, make absolutely sure Enthr's safely in my arms, and start the hard journey out.

I make it, somehow. It's a while before I'm in any shape to track my buyer down. But that exchange is done. Shadowhearth's out of my hands for good. And with how much damage it'd wreak on unarmored flesh, it won't be falling into anyone else's, not literally. The glacier's in shambles, and the maelstrom easily coulda been destroyed, too. If not, anyone else who wanted to feed it is dead, anyway. So... that's it for that relic. Done and dusted.

End of story.

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Created by M/Roadie 7 months ago. Last modified by M/Roadie 1 week ago