Largo still kneeling reached inside his cloak and removed a long brass tube wrapped in leather. Opening it he removed the gun’s long-glass and attached it to the top of the barrel, raised the gun to his shoulder and sighted down the barrel as he methodically scanned the not to distant valley floor. The walls of the valley were steep and heavy with snow as were the mountains and cliffs that seemed to lean out over the valley floor on the far side. The valley was long and narrow disappearing in the distance this end of the valley ended just below him and accessible by what looked like a path that cut back and forth down a steep sloop. The valley floor was barren of trees and to his surprise barren of all vegetation which he thought odd, but odder still was the tall column of stone that towered above the valley floor. All around what appeared to be a herd stone were the shaggy shapes of the Dum Gor. Near the edges of the valley under the eaves of the forest were glowing fires and ever more Dum Gor. A few of the Gor were huge, white-furred Gronti which reminded him of another alehouse discussion amongst other Gazani Dawi. He remembered what Dimbar said, “That the Umgi clans of Norsca held that there warriors must take the head of a huge, white-furred behemoth they called a Yeti as a rite of passage to manhood.” Largo shook his head when he spotted what must surely be a Yeti as was glad that his Dawi kin had no similar traditions but then again the Dawi of Norsca are a little more traditional and conservative than the Worlds Edge Mountain Dawi and have some strange ways of doing things. As he continued to observe he heard a loud Umgi scream that brought his eyes back to the stone and then he saw the captives. Five or six Umgi roped together and guarded by four Ungor. But the scream died away as what could only be a Bray-Shaman lifted his bloody knife into the air with one hand and the other held an Umgi heart as two Gors dragged the body over to the fires along a well trod bloody path through the snow. The shaman began shaking blood from the heart as he used it to scrawl symbols across the face of the rock and when he was done he began eating the heart and chanting. Soon the symbols began to glow with eerie blue green light.
Largo had seen enough, the range was too long for a sure shot so he looked for a way down the mountain to get closer to the valley without being seen and soon spotted where the trail lead in and out of the valley almost to his very position. Who or what had made the trail of beaten snow he did not know. But looking both ways along it he saw no lookouts and when he got to the trail he saw tracks in the snow but who ever had made them must have left the valley so he moved quickly, noisily down the trail till he came to a pile of boulders that must have fallen from the mountain heights above him an eon ago that overlook the fires and the few trees that lined the valley floor. As he took up his position in the rocks he removed his pack so he could grab extra ammo if he should needed it. A few feet away just below his position there was more deep snow and the trail continued on towards the valley floor a short distance away. There was another scream of terror, and one of the Umgi fought clear of his capturers knocking one to the ground as he ran towards the sloop, toward his position. Largo knelt amongst the rocks, braced himself, pulled back the hammer with an audible metallic click and sighted in on the pursuing Gor. He was about to shoot when a mound of snow erupted and a huge snow covered creature reared up just below and in front of his position and charged him with long wicked claws and gaping fang filled maw as it made a terrible roar.
The beast was much to close and if Largo turned to run he would surely be dead before he took a single step. Largo ducked the first swing of the claws and was leaning back when he shoved the barrel of his weapon into the creature’s mouth and pulled the trigger all the while hoping that the powder was still dry and the percussion cap had not fallen off. The gun went off with a muffled explosion and Largo with the fanged scarred gun still in his hands was thrown to the ground from the recoil since he was not braced. Flat on his back he expected to see the creature jump up and shred his body but when Largo stood he saw that the back of the creatures head had exploded in a cloud of blood, bone, and fur. Largo took no further notice but wondered if it was a Yeti as he quickly looked into the valley as he opened his cartridge box grabbed a paper wrapped cartridge, bit the end off and poured the powder down the barrel then shoved the paper wrapped slug down the barrel. With his ramrod he quickly shoved the round all the way down tapping in snugly into place as he shoved the ramrod in the snow beside him as he placed a percussion cap onto the firing port. All done in about fifteen or twenty heartbeats as he leaned over the now dead body using it as a warm redoubt he took aim.
The Dum Gor were milling about looking for the source of the sound, all except the Umgi who was still running with three or four Gors chasing him. He sighted in on the closest Gor, and fired and quickly reloaded, aimed, fired, reloaded, aimed, and fired again. Now there was no doubt to the Dum Gor as to where the sound came from. The first shot had been muffled and obscured, but the next three shots they heard and clearly saw the spouts of flame and clouds of smoke rising from the mountainside, the three dead Gor only angered them further.
When Largo tried to load he saw that the bore was slightly fouled so he ran the rod up and down the length of the barrel shaking loose the buildup of powder residue then quickly loaded and fired at a Wargor who was bellowing out orders and pointing in his direction. As he loaded again he saw that he had only wounded the Wargor who was herding a group of about twenty or so Dum Gor up the mountain so he aimed and fired again at the closest racing Gor who was chasing the Umgi, the Gor fell to its knees tried to stand then fell forward. The quick thinking Umgi happened to be looking over his shoulder and seeing that the Gor had fallen turned ran back grabbed the Gor’s spears and shield and continued to run up the hillside toward the sound of gunfire.
The bore was fouled again, and Largo quickly loosened his trousers and urinated down the barrel and ran the ram rod again back and fourth in the barrel and then dumped the contents into the snow. Quickly running a dry patch down the barrel he reloaded again. Then Largo heard a loud rumble, turning to look at what had caused it and saw the snow laden mountain to the right of him begin to sag and then with hardly another sound the whole hillside slid away in a roaring wall of snow, snapping trees and boulders sweeping down narrowly missing the Umgi but not the twenty astounded pursuing Gors who disappeared in a wave of billowing white snow.
Largo slowly loaded again as he surveyed the carnage left in the wake of the avalanche. It was deadly quiet as both he, the running Umgi and the Dum Gors looked up at the mountains surrounding the narrow valley. The main Dum Gor herd were still upon the valley floor were regrouping under the direction of the Bray-Shaman but it was only a matter of time before either he ran out of ammunition or the Dum Gors managed to force their way through the snow to attack him. He had no idea where the other Umgi were, somewhere down below in the valley more than likely dead since he had lost sight of them as well as the escaped Umgi who was still below him coming up the trail. As he aimed into the milling crowd of Dum Gors around the rock he sighted in on the Shaman and fired only to see a Gor inadvertently step in front of the Shaman and fall to the ground dead.
His firing caused another but smaller avalanche on his far left that slid off the mountain cliff falling in a thunderclap upon the valley floor that made a strange cracking noise. Largo looked behind and above him and saw the heavy buildup of snow upon the mountain and shuddered, death by Dum Gor or death by snow and decided he would take his chances with the snow as began loading again and resumed picking out the closest targets as he aimed, fired, loaded, aimed, and fired; killing or wounding each time he shot. Largo was so focused on the Dum Gor in the valley he almost did not see the eight Ungor come charging up the sloop across the avalanche debris field and quickly shifted his aim. The barrel was getting hotter and he became aware he might have to let it cool down soon or the next time he tried to pour the powder charge down it was ignite and flash back in his face if he was not careful.
That was when he heard a loud crackling sound that pulled his eyes toward the far valley wall as nearly half the mountains snowfield started shifting. Then a crack seemed to slowly stretch across the face of the snow and icepack above the valley and slowly widen. Ever so slowly the avalanche picked up speed and then it came crashing down the mountainside snapping giant sized trees, uprooting boulders and plunging over the cliff cascading down upon the cowering Dum Gor in the valley floor burying them. No sooner had the avalanche hit the valley floor, than the floor of the valley began to heave and buckle, large cracks began appearing in the snow and then huge sections of the valley floor began to lift and those Dum Gor that were not buried slid into the cracks and that was when Largo realized that it was not a valley but a frozen over fjord. Floating islands of ice became unstable rafts as the Dum Gor tried to keep from falling in but many just capsized and they slid off into the freezing water never to be seen again as the fjord was now filled with floating islands of ice.
Wrenching his attention away from the devastation his firing had wrought he saw that not all the Dum Gor were on the ice, some were along the shore and they survived and they spread out and were now charging up the slope toward him. Once again he began the firing range drill, of load, aim, fire, load, aim, fare as fast as he could. Not only was his gun getting hotter it was beginning to foul again and it was taking much longer to reload as he forced the round down the barrel with his ramrod and that was the least of his concern as he began to run low on pre-made ammunition and would have to start using his powder horn.
He knew now if not for the deep snow, the fortunate avalanche, and the steep slope the Dum Gor would have overrun his position right after his first shot. They were closer now, he fired and when he tried to reload the ramrod became jammed in the barrel and he could not ram it down or pull it out. He reached into his cloak and pulled the two hand guns that he took from the armory and he rose to fire over the dead Yeti when a spear came from off to his left striking the Ungor in the center of the chest, killing it. Largo yelled out “Thanks,” in Norsca Umgi as he shifted his aim and fired, hitting an Ungor in the throat. He dropped the now empty gun and pulled his battleaxe. Then another spear took another Ungor and Largo shifted and fired at the next Gor who he only wounded and it still came at a run. The wounded Gor leaped over the body of the Yeti and Largo was poised and ready as he swung his axe with both hands nearly cutting the Gor in half as it dropped at his feet.
Looking toward his next opponent Largo felt no pain, just the solid hit in the middle of his back as if someone had thrown a stone. No pain, yet his legs were no longer his own and he sprawled face-down into the damp snow. He clawed at the snow, struggling to rise, his legs would not obey him. He reached behind his back to finger the spear buried in his back. He felt something rising in his throat.
Then there was a painful grasp on his arm and he was turned over. The spear snapped and sent a lance of pain clear through him, transfixing sternum and spine. He cried out and closed his eyes against the pain. When he opened them again, blinking through the mist of tears he was surprised to see not the face of an Umgi but that of a black hair, chaos tattooed Kurgan Marauder holding a Gor shield in one hand and a knife in the other. The Marauder smiled said “Thanks” when he looked down at Largo, then he leaned over and with his knife reaching out to cut Largo’s throat. As Marauder did so Largo was dimly aware of the Marauder head disappearing in a cloud of red mist, as he to faded into darkness.
(to be continued)