:: Jhinday Evening, the 93rd of Jhyel's Slumber ::
"You're a fool Zurg, how could you possibly lose three miserable scurries from a *guarded* pit!” continued the tirade.
"Your first question I can answer, Corbin. The first scurry knew nothing, he was but a foolish scurry upon some fanciful quest. The second came to rescue the first. We were not able to interrogate the last before the escape. I highly doubt that they could have known anything” came the second high-pitched, gravely voice, a voice which was surprising well spoken, but could still not escape the annoying nasal quality that accompanied all grovel's speech.
"You'd best be sure, you know how our employer is, he's very meticulous. *I* especially have a score to settle with that scurry! Unfortunately, we couldn't track them because of the blizzard and they could be anywhere by now with the aid of the steel golem. Why was the golem in that hole!” ranted the first voice, Corbin.
"He'd been there countless years, I myself had inspected him and believed he was nothing but scrap metal. He was ignored by my predecessors and he was ignored by me,” explained the grovel voice of Zurg, in a whiny effort to escape blame.
"Wonderful! Blame the dead, they'll hardly defend themselves! You're a genius Zurg, you've stumbled upon the perfect scapegoats!” bellowed Corbin. "Never mind! You say they didn't know anything?!"
"Of course they didn't Corbin, they were only scurries, I told you,” explained Zurg in a profoundly obsequious tone.
"Fine, has Saker Cosantine accepted the task?” continued Corbin, changing the topic of his harangue.
"He took the gold and said that we should consider the doddering old fool as good as dead,” said Zurg, thankful to have the conversation move on to matters for which he wasn't at fault.
"By the first days of Solenari's Awakening, good King Orson will be supping with Daemoaz."
Theo stumbled back under the weight of that declaration. Theo could almost see the words burned into the air with prophetic power. Unconsciously backing towards the whole in the back of the room, Theo could feel the pottery crunch under his foot. Cringing, he stopped dead in his tracks.
"Did you hear something?” came the questioning tone of Corbin.
Theo bolted for the hole and felt the blizzard hit him as if he'd been dipped in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean. Over the pitched howl of the wind, he could barely hear the voice tumble through the small hole which had been his salvation only moments before.
"I should have fed the rats, they're smashing things up in my workshop..."
* * *
Theo's fingers were almost completely numb again, not having had a chance to completely recover in the grovel hut. As he climbed, Theo dug his fingers into the hard mantle of snow and ice which encrusted the giant oak. The cold was forcing tears to his eyes, tears which were freezing to his fur and making his eyelids periodically stick together. The wind dancing in Theo's ears was apparently wielding daggers, because with every periodic gust, Theo's head ached with pain.
"Keep going. Keep going. Keep going,” Theo repeated to himself over and over, knowing that if he stopped, Solenari's rays would play upon his frozen, lifeless body in the morning.
Theo leapt from branch to bough, oak to maple, each leap becoming more and more dangerous as the blizzard gathered force. Also keeping Theo moving was the fact that, as far as he knew, he was the only one who could stop the death of King Orson. Ice was collecting on his fur, and the few fruitless attempts to knock off the extra weight only seemed to make matters worse.
Theo, after what seemed an eternity of being weak and deadened by cold, saw the hollow log that was currently serving as he and the other scurries' shelter.
Making the final leap, Theo felt his numb fingers grasp at the coat of ice which covered the thick limb of the immense elm ... and slip. The hard ground, now covered in ice and snow, rushed to greet Theo in its rocky embrace.
Theo stretched for any means of deliverance, anything that might at least slow the speed of his descent. He could feel the cool wind rushing past him, whispering that these were his final moments.
A final stretch proved to be all that Theo needed, as he grasped a limb heavy with frost. Every cord, muscle and sinew was stretched to near breaking as Theo smashed into the trunk of the birch.
Falling the rest of the way, Theo landed hard in large drift of snow which was piled against the trunk of the large tree.
"Casastan, I apparently owe you a debt of gratitude.”
Theo lay in the bank of snow and felt the dagger's of cold cut through his fur. The hag of winter was in a foul mood this evening.