Percival was lost. He’d been away from Castle Whitefall for nearly two weeks, and he hadn’t seen any sign of the escaped prisoners. He also didn’t really know how to get back to Whitefall. However, even if he did, he was determined to accomplish his mission before he returned. He was going to make everything better.
He had started off heading towards the Cedarbrook mountains, not because he knew that was the right direction to go, but just because he liked the mountains. Mountains had caves and dungeons in them, and caves and dungeons were where he felt most at home. It never occurred to Percival that other people might not be quite so comfortable inside the dank, dark underground caves that made him so happy.
At first, Percival had seen lots of other people on his quest. He ran into several other patrols who were out looking for the escaped prisoners, and he saw the occasional villager returning from a hunt in the mountains; if they had been successful, they would be dragging a large, gutted beast on a sled behind them. Most of the people he saw stayed far away from him. However, he did at one point see a large contingent of knights and Warlocks, and stumbling along behind them, the stumpy bald prisoner. Though disappointed that he had not been able to assist in his capture, he took heart in the fact that there were still two prisoners at large. The Warlocks told him that they had ambushed the three prisoners, and that two of them had escaped further into the mountains. So deeper into the mountains Percival went.
However, as time went on, Percival saw fewer and fewer people; the first major snow of the winter had swept down the mountains into the valley below, and very few people were willing to venture out of their warm, cozy houses. Percival had many layers of fat to keep him warm, but the snow made it hard to find food; lately, Percival had been spending more of his time looking for food than looking for the prisoners. If only I were back at the Castle, he lamented sadly. I wouldn’t have to find food there.
The days passed, the nights grew colder, and Percival grew more hungry. He kept climbing, though, higher and higher. He knew that the prisoners were in the mountains, and he wasn’t about to go back now. He chewed on the roots of the few small shrubs that managed to cling to life up here; they didn’t provide a lot of nourishment, but they were better than nothing. Last night, he had gotten caught in a cold, windy storm of swirling snow and ice; he’d barely been able to see two feet in front of him, and more than once he caught himself just before falling off the edge of some steep precipice that had come out of the darkness. Finally he ran into a cliff wall, and had followed it along until he found a small alcove, providing some scant shelter against the storm. He’d lain down there and fallen asleep, and when he woke up this morning, he’d had to dig himself out of a giant snowdrift that had mostly buried him.
The morning air was clear, and a bright sun was shining overhead. The mountains were, for the time, still and peaceful. If not for the huge snowdrifts everywhere, it would be hard to know that the night before had brought such a storm. This morning, Percival had been lucky; he’d caught a small mountain vole that was scampering lightly across the snow as Percival dug his way out. It hadn’t been a lot, but it was better than those nasty roots.
It was a lot more difficult to progress this morning, due to the snow. Percival fought his way through drifts that would have buried a normal man, but only came up to Percival’s waist. On more than one occasion, he had to tunnel his way through a tall, narrow canyon that had completely filled with snow; he hoped that it did not come down on top of him as he went. Finally, however, he made it to the top of a ridge, and overlooked a large valley that looked as though it had recently been home to a great host of creatures. Large, smoldering bonfires were spread out around the valley, and giant tracks and footprints were everywhere. The snow in the valley was not the crisp, clean snow that coated the rest of the mountains, but instead the dirty blackened snow that has been mixed in with dirt and rocks and leaves and packed down hard. Percival had found the Chimeraen camp, though it was now abandoned.
Puzzled, Percival climbed down into the valley and began to explore the area. He didn’t see any obvious signs that the prisoners had been here, but perhaps there was some clue that was hidden away in the remains of the camp that would guide him in his hunt.
Percival spent several hours carefully exploring the camp; he unknowingly covered the same ground several times, and missed other large swaths, but finally, he came across something. Half-buried in the snow was a small, leather-bound volume. Much of the ink had run off the pages from the water, but the inscription on the first page could still be faintly discerned: “The Personal Diary of Idriys Vydar, High Physician to the White King.”
Percival did know what books were, but he didn’t know why there would be one up here. Neither did he know how to read, so after flipping through the pages of the book and seeing nothing of interest, he tossed the book back into the snow, and resumed his search for some clue about the missing prisoners. After some time, he gave up, discouraged, and sat down in the middle of the abandoned camp and started to cry.
After some time had passed, Percival’s tears dried up. He gave one last big sniffle, and then stood up, looking around the remains of the camp. There was clearly nothing else here; it was time to move on, and find the prisoners. Just as he was getting ready to head off further up into the mountains, he noticed something odd: a small, lithe figure walking towards him. This was odd primarily because most people wouldn’t voluntarily walk towards a strange troll in the wild, and especially not in the mountains. Mountain Trolls were by far the most dangerous of the troll species, and their long claws and sharp pointy teeth could carve up a person’s insides quite quickly.
However, this particular person didn’t seem afraid of Percival; as it got closer, Percival realized that the person was in fact a woman, and she seemed to be looking for something. He noticed that she wasn’t wearing many clothes, and he was surprised that she wasn’t cold. She was just walking barefoot through the snow; was this something normal people did? Percival didn’t think so, but he didn’t often pay attention to people’s footwear, and he tried to avoid the snow as much as possible.
The woman got quite close to Percival before even noticing that he was there. She didn’t seem particularly surprised to see him, though. She stopped, and met Percival’s gaze with a solid, unblinking stare. There was something a little odd about her eyes, Percival thought. They had a faint glow about them, as though they were dying embers in a fire. He’d never seen anything like that before, but there were a lot of things he’d never seen. After several increasingly awkward minutes, Percival finally said stupidly, “Hello.”
“Hello, Percival,” Evelyn said. “You are a long way from home.”
Percival shrugged. He hoped that it didn’t look like he’d been crying. Trolls had a reputation to keep up, after all, and if the humans learned that a troll had feelings, they might stop being afraid of them. “Just hunting,” he responded, in an hilariously awful attempt at nonchalance. “Not so far back. No big deal.”
Evelyn said nothing, and resumed searching the ground for – well, whatever it was she was looking for. Suddenly a thought occurred to Percival, and he asked suspiciously, “How do you know my name?”
A thin trace of a smile passed over Evelyn’s face. “I know many things, Percival.”
“Oh,” Percival said, as though that explained everything. “What’s your name?”
“My name is… Evelyn,” she responded. “I’m looking for something too. A small book. Have you seen it?”
“Oh,” Percival repeated. “Threw it over there somewhere.” He gestured behind him, and Evelyn darted around him with a surprising agility, looking for it. Her eyes alit on the snowdrift that Idriys’s journal had landed in, and she snapped it to her breast, clutching it tightly.
“Maybe you can help me, Percival,” Evelyn said then.
Percival looked wary. When people asked him for help, they often were trying to take advantage of him. “What you want?” he grunted.
“I am searching for the owner of this book,” she said. “I want to… give it back to him. And I think you are looking for him too,” she said cunningly.
Percival hesitated; he didn’t know what to make of this strange woman, but she seemed to know a lot about him. “You know where the prisoners are?” he said.
“Yes, Percival,” Evelyn responded. “They left with the Chimerae two days ago. They are marching on Castle Whitefall. They will destroy your home, Percival, unless you help me.”
Percival’s eyes narrowed. “Humans with Chimera-beasts?” he asked. “I no think so.”
Evelyn’s eyes faltered, and her knees gave out; she fell to the ground, supporting herself on her arms. She reached into the small pouch of Tao by her side and devoured some, and regained some strength. She stood back up and said, “Look,” She waved an arm, and a patch of the snow melted into a small, clear pool of water. She crouched low over the pool, and breathed on it, and it began to ripple. The ripples began to intensify, and slowly coalesced into figures. Percival saw two of the prisoners – the tall, serious man, and the short stumpy bald man, riding along in a chariot that had no discernible source of power. All around them were waves and waves of Chimera, gliding along the ground like a great, frothing tide of teeth and spines and deep golden eyes.
Confusion settled into Percival’s brain. It looked like the prisoners were actually travelling with the Chimerae. But why would they be? And how did they get in the snow? It didn’t make very much sense to him. He looked back at the image, still rolling by in the snow. Idriys said something to Josiah, and Josiah laughed, long black hair blowing in the wind, a wild look in his eyes. It was strange to see a picture moving like this, and not be able to hear any sound from it. Percival looked back at Evelyn questioningly. She made no move, as though waiting for Percival to make up his mind.
Finally, Percival said, “You know how to find them?” Evelyn nodded. “And you take me to them?” Evelyn nodded again. “Ok,” he said. He bent down low to the ground and allowed Evelyn to climb up onto his back.
She pointed back down the mountains, and said “That way!” Percival took off at a loping trot, Evelyn hanging tightly onto his back. A fierce grin spread across her face, and Percival let out a joyous roar. He was back on the trail again!