We continued on our way for a few hours, when Lenore returned and went straight into her Hallow. She reported that she had been unable to get a good idea how many wolves there were, but was guessing that the answer was, a lot of them. According to her, the best chance to get to terrain that we could use to our advantage was to head towards the northern end of the mountain-range and looking there.
If we hurried, we would be able to get there tomorrow, so we would have to drive our mounts quite hard. We only stopped once the sky was slowly turning red, quickly making camp and using parts of our supplies. There was no training for Rai that night or attempts to hunt. We even doubled up on guards, leaving two people awake, just in case they managed to avoid our wards. We heard howling in the distance, but I doubted that the wolves would be so kind to give us a warning howl just when they were closing in. No, they were coordinating, trying to cut off our escape-paths before striking.
Ultimately, our vigilance was not tested and the night passed uneventful. But there was a palpable tension in the air, it felt as if the forest was ready to snap. Maybe it was just me, but I doubted it, something was out there.
We quickly broke camp and once more Lenore was scouting, mainly towards the mountains before us, hoping that she would find a good sheltered location we could use to weather the coming attack. At the end of the day, what we were doing was a gamble. We gambled that we managed to take the wolves that were hunting us, using a terrain-advantage, stopping them from using their numbers-advantage.
But when it came to battle the enemy also got a vote. If they simply hung back, in essence using siege-tactics, it would be problematic. None of us had any real talent with fire, which would allow us to use magic to melt snow for water without using wood. Adra was able to light a fire, but melting enough snow would be nigh impossible. Me, on the other hand, if I steeled my will against the nausea, used Overflow and almost all my Astral Power, I was able to just about produce a glimmer that, with enough good will, might be called a flame. Or maybe a spark. Afterwards, I had a huge headache, telling me that fire was clearly not my element. In addition, it felt so horribly wrong that I doubted I could make myself try again.
So, holing up in a valley might save us, or it might not, but I had a feeling that getting hunted down in the forest, the natural habitat of the wolves, was an even worse idea.
During midday, Lenore returned, telling me that she had found a promising area, a small canyon, cut into the rocks by a modest stream and leading into a cave that we might be able to use as shelter. It sounded good, the canyon would give us quite a bit of killing ground, so we should be able to hole up for a few days, hoping that the wolves either lost interest and left or we managed to kill enough of them to dissuade further pursuit. Lenore was unable to determine if the stream was still there, as it was hidden under ice and snow, or how deep the cave actually was, but according to her, it was our best bet. I believed her.
She took off again, and about an hour later Adra warned us about incoming enemies, allowing all of us to ready ourselves. Her warning was just in time, a few moments later, four shaggy grey wolves burst from the undergrowth, trying to spook our mounts and herd us. I was having none of that, quickly unleashing my Weaver’s Fury and sending two formations of three against two wolves. They tried to dodge, but neither were able to dodge all three. One of them managed to dodge two but took the third deep into its chest, the other tried to avert getting hit into a vital spot, but the attack crippled both of its legs on the left side, making it fall.
Adra leapt and changed her shape in mid-air, striking as soon as she had an arm to do so. Her attack was a cleaving swipe, using the spear not to stab but more like a halberd or something similar, covering a large arc with her attack. The wolves had not expected that, one lost a leg, while the other dodged. The last wolf saw that we didn’t react like prey should and tried to run. Leaving the two crippled wolves to Adra, I focused on the fleeing wolf, striking with my weaver’s fury and killing it as well.
Adra had been smart enough to leave the two wolves alive, allowing me to harvest their blood for later use, even if the amount of power was quite pathetic. They were so much weaker than us that experience penalties applied to us, with only Rai getting the full amount.
“We should harvest them, just to stretch our supplies. There is no telling if we need to, but I’d rather eat wolf than eat nothing at all.” Adra said, looking less than pleased.
I could understand her displeasure at the prospect of eating them, wolf-meat was not great at the best of times but these four specimen seemed to be almost starved, making their meat even less appealing. But still, waste not, want not. I moved to the wolves I had not yet drained of blood, drawing a rune triangle onto them, using my exsanguinate-rune to rip the blood from their carcasses. Both had deep wounds, making it an easy job and once it was done, Hringur allowed us to use him as a pack-animal, even if it irked him a little.
So, Sigmir and I had to run for the last stretch of our journey, but nothing happened during that stretch. We reached the mountain-slopes and Lenore guided us towards the valley she had scouted out. Here, even Rai dismounted and Adra once again used her Pass Without Trace-Magic, hoping that the wolves would lose us. I doubted it, they were consummate hunters and I was pretty sure that some of them had their own magic, but maybe it would help.
The valley itself was quite short and narrow, only a few hundred meters between the mouth and the cave that marked its end, with the cliffs being quite steep and daunting, at some points only a few meters between them. . I almost wondered if the valley was not natural, but I reconsidered, it might just be a different type of rock that had been softer than the surrounding rocks, causing it to give way to the water first. There had to be quite some snow-runoff from higher in the mountains, causing great seasonal changes in water level. Luckily, we had months until spring might even think about thawing the snow here, so we were safe from that.
My first act, once we reached the mouth and the others entered was to try and enspell the shadows cast by the cliffs to conceal the valley, making it harder to detect. I tried to weave it into a ward, similar to the one I had found in my grimoire, but it was not easy. making me unsure of the ultimate effect, as it was almost useless against me. But that might be because I was the caster, because I knew about it, or because of my level or because of my darkness-affinity. Hopefully, it would work better against the wolves. Behind my ward, Adra was creating another ward, layering our protectings.
But I wanted more than just meta-physical protections, so I sat and started a lengthy casting process, to make a wall of Hard Ice, to narrow the valley even further. It would allow a single fighter to block the path and two others to look over the wall and throw magic or arrows their way. I could have blocked the path completely, but that would reduce us to complete passivity, hoping that they went away due to boredom. The narrow opening would entice them to fight us on our chosen ground, allowing us to bleed them while also delivering food to our doorstep.
As I sat there, Sigmir and Rai wandered by, telling us that they would get as much firewood as they possibly could, just in case the wolves wanted to siege us. It seemed such a human idea, so unlike normal predator-behaviour, but I could not be certain that they would act as I expected them to. Even Ylva was unsure about that pack's tactics, as they acted rather strange altogether. Slowly, the wall in front of me started to grow, when I felt a tugging somewhere in the depths of my mind. It took me a second to recognise the source and a few more seconds to do more than instinctually answer. The tugging was Sigmir, trying the trick i had used to locate her when Rai and I had scouted the dryads, so I tried to send back a feeling of invitation and welcome.
A few minutes later, the two of them returned, Sigmir smiling. When I asked her why, she told me that they had trouble finding the valley, so she had tried to feel for me and suddenly, a few hundred meters away from them, the shadows had fallen away, allowing her to find the valley. Rai had been unable to see it, until she had guided him almost all the way. It seemed that the ward was working quite well.
After a short kiss, I went back to growing my wall.