by Trevor Hopkins

The three of us stood in the deep snow on the edge of the little parking area, looking along the high valley surrounded by high peaks on all sides. Glaciers clung to the mountains and the valley between was a blanket of unbroken snow shining bright in the moonlight except where some rocky outcrop was swept bare by the winds.

Snow-covered mountains by moonlight

It was a genuinely awe-inspiring sight, if you like that sort of thing; this was of course why there was an officially-marked observation point for lazy tourists just here. In this season, it was also an isolated and desolate place, inhospitable for humans and Goblins alike, and therefore the ideal spot for a huge flying lizard to blow off a little steam.

It felt bitterly cold with the strong breeze blowing in our faces, laden with razor-sharp ice crystals. I held the unfolded map firmly in both hands.

"This is as close to the point the Old One told me about that we'll be able to get to by car," I announced, shouting over the wind and the fluttering of the map.

"Are you suggesting we should walk from here?" Gumshoe yelled back, sounding extremely doubtful and squinting down the valley, "We're not equipped for a hike in this weather."

"Trust me, we're not walking anywhere tonight," I reassured him, "I just wanted us all to take a look at exactly where we are."

I turned around to face the road, the others following suit. The tar-macadam itself was clear enough - the snowplough had been along recently and the snow had stopped falling long before that - but to either side the drifts were a foot or more high. I gestured them closer with my hands; Gumshoe crouched so that we could all bring our heads close together. It was the only easy way to make myself heard.

"That valley must be thirty miles long and half that wide, and there's just this one easily-accessible route in," I explained, "This stretch of road that we're on, maybe no more than two miles long, is the only place where it is possible to see into this valley without flying or walking in. And there are all those twists and turns along the route, cuttings and tunnels in the rock, stands of trees."

A dirty pick-up truck with misted-up windows rumbled past, throwing up a small blizzard of snow with its passage. We lifted our heads to watch it pass. It was the only moving vehicle we had seen in more than an hour.

"So, this is the only place we can easily see into this valley," I added after the noise of the vehicle had subsided, "Which is why we're here now."

"All very interesting," Doonira said pointedly, "But we're freezing our butts off in this wind."

"Right," I agreed, grinning, "Let's get back to the car to get warmed up, and then we can go exploring."

Part 16 Part 18