I'm thinking that we might be crawling back to that fool Lord Feringal and his little land o' Auckney," Bruenor grumbled when he crept back into the small cave the group had used for shelter that night after the storm had abated. The weather was better, to be sure, but Bruenor understood the dangers of avalanches, and the sheer volume of snow that had fallen the night before stunned him. "Snow's deeper than a giant's crotch!"

"Walk atop it," Drizzt remarked with a wry grin. But in truth none of them, not even the drow, was much in the mood for smiling. The snow had piled high all through the mountains, and the day's travel had been shortened, as Drizzt had feared, by the specter of avalanches. Dozens cascaded down all around them, many blocking passes that would force the companions to wander far afield. This could mean a journey of hours, perhaps days, to circumvent a slide-filled pass that should have taken them but an hour to walk through.

"We ain't gonna find 'em, elf," Bruenor said bluntly. "They're deep underground, don't ye doubt, and not likely to stick their smelly heads above ground until the spring. We ain't for finding them in this."

"We always knew it would not be easy," Catti-brie reminded the dwarf.

"We found the group raiding the tower, and they pointed us in the right direction," Regis piped in. "We'll need some more luck, to be sure, but did we not know that all along?"

"Bah!" Bruenor snorted. He kicked a fairly large stone, launching it into a bouncing roll to crash into the side wall of the small cave.

"Surrender the hammer to them?" Drizzt asked Bruenor in all earnestness.

"Or get buried afore we e'er get near 'em?" the dwarf replied. "Great choices there, elf!"

"Or return to Auckney and wait out the winter," Regis offered. "Then try again in the spring."

"When Bloody Keel will likely be sailing the high seas," reminded Catti-brie. "With Sheila Kree and Aegis-fang long gone from these shores."

"We go south, then," reasoned Bruenor. "We find Deudermont and sign on to help with his pirate-killin' until we catch up to Kree. Then we take me hammer back and put the witch on the bottom o' those high seas - and good enough for her!"

A silence followed, profound and unbroken for a long, long time. Perhaps Bruenor was right. Perhaps hunting for the warhammer now wouldn't bring them anything but disaster. And if anyone among them had the right to call off the search for Aegis-fang, it was certainly Bruenor. He had crafted the hammer, after all, and had given it to Wulfgar. In truth, though, none of them, not even Regis, who was perhaps the most removed from the situation, wanted to let go of that warhammer, that special symbol of what Wulfgar had once been to all of them.

Perhaps it made sense to wait out the wintry season, but Drizzt couldn't accept the logical conclusion that the weather had made the journey simply too dangerous to continue. The drow wanted this done with, and soon. He wanted to finally catch up to Wulfgar, to retrieve both Aegis-fang and the lost symbol of all they had once been, and the thought of sitting around through several months of snow would not settle comfortably on his slender shoulders. Looking around, the drow realized that the others, even Bruenor - perhaps even particularly Bruenor, despite his typical blustering - were feeling much the same way.

The drow walked out of the cave, scrambling up the wall of snow that had drifted in front of the entrance. He ran to the highest vantage point he could find, and despite the glare that was surely stinging his light-sensitive eyes, he peered all around, seeking a course to the south, to the sea, seeking some way that they could continue.

He heard someone approaching from behind a short time later and from the sound of the footfalls knew it to be Catti-brie. She was walking with a stride that was somewhere between Drizzt's light-stepping and Bruenor's plowing technique.

"Lookin' as bad to me in going back as in going ahead," the woman said when she moved up beside Drizzt. "Might as well be going ahead, then, by me own thinking."

"And will Bruenor agree? Or Regis?"

"Rumblebelly's making much the same case to Bruenor inside right now," Catti-brie remarked, and Drizzt turned to regard her. Always before, Regis would have been the very first to abandon the road to adventure, the very first to seek a way back to warm comfort.

"Do you remember when Artemis Entreri impersonated Regis?" Drizzt asked, his tone a clear warning.

Catti-brie's blue eyes widened in shock for just a moment, until Drizzt's expression clearly conveyed that he was only kidding. Still, the point that something was very different with Regis was clearly made, and fully taken.

"Ye'd think that the goblin spear he caught on the river in the south would've put him even more in the fluffy chair," Catti-brie remarked.

"Without the magical aid from that most unlikely source, he would have lost his arm, at least," Drizzt reminded, and it was true enough.

When Regis had been stabbed in the shoulder, the friends simply could not stop the bleeding. Drizzt and Catti-brie were actually in the act of preparing Regis's arm for amputation, which they figured to be the only possible chance they had for keeping the halfling alive, when Jarlaxle's drow lieutenant, in the guise of Cadderly, had walked up and offered some magical healing.

Regis had been quiet through the remainder of that adventure, the road to Jarlaxle's crystal tower and Drizzt's fight with Entreri, and the long and sullen road all the way back to Icewind Dale. The friends had seen many adventures together, and in truth, that last one had seen the worst outcome of all. The Crystal Shard was lost to the dangerous leader of Bregan D'aerthe. It had also been easily the most painful and dangerous for Regis personally, and yet for some reason Drizzt and Catti-brie could not fathom, that last adventure had apparently sparked something within Regis. It had become evident almost immediately after their return to Ten-Towns. Not once had Regis tried to dodge out of the companions' policing of the dangerous roads in and out of the region, and on those few occasions when they had encountered monsters or highwaymen, Regis had refused to sit back and let his skilled friends handle the situation.

And here he was, trying to convince Bruenor to plow on through the inhospitable and deadly mountains, when the warm hearth of Lord Feringal's castle sat waiting behind them.

"Three against one, then," Catti-brie said at length. "We'll be going ahead, it seems."

"With Bruenor grumbling every step of the way."

"He'd be grumbling every step of the way if we turned back, as well."

"There is a dependability there."

"A reminder of times gone past and a signal of times to come," Catti-brie replied without missing a beat, and the pair shared a needed, heartfelt laugh.

When they went back into the deep, high cave they found Bruenor hard at work in packing up the camp, rolling blankets into tight bundles, while Regis stirred the pot over the still-blazing fire.

"Ye seein' a road worth trying?" Bruenor asked.

"Ahead or back ... it is much the same," Drizzt answered.

"Except if we go ahead, we'll still have to come back," Bruenor reasoned.

"Go on, I say," Catti-brie offered. "We're not to find our answers in the sleepy town of Auckney, and I'm wanting answers before the spring thaw."

"What says yerself, elf?" Bruenor asked.

"We knew that the road would be dangerous and inhospitable before we ever set out from Luskan," Drizzt answered. "We knew the season then, and this snowfall is hardly unusual or unexpected."

"But we hoped to find the stupid pirate afore this," the dwarf put in.

"Hoped, but hardly expected," Drizzt was quick to reply. He looked to Catti-brie. "I, too, have little desire to spend the winter worrying about Wulfgar."

"On, then," Bruenor suddenly agreed. "And let the snow take us. And let Wulfgar spend the winter worrying about us!" The dwarf ended with a stream of curses, muttering under his breath in that typical Bruenor fashion. The other three in the cave shared a few knowing winks and smiles.

The low hum of Bruenor's grumbles shifted, though, into a more general humming noise that filled all the air and caught the attention of all four.

In the middle of the cave, a blue vertical line appeared, glowing to a height of about seven feet. Before the friends could begin to call out or react, that line split apart into two of equal height, and those two began drifting apart, a horizontal blue line atop them.

"Wizard door!" Regis cried, rolling to the side, scrambling for the shadows, and taking out his mace.

Drizzt dropped the figurine of Guenhwyvar to the floor, ready to call out to the panther. He drew forth his scimitars, moving beside Bruenor to face the growing portal directly, while Catti-brie slipped a few steps back and to the side, stringing and drawing her bow in one fluid motion.

The door formed completely, the area within the three defining lines buzzing with a lighter blue haze.

Out stepped a form, dressed in dark blue robes. Bruenor roared and lifted his many-notched axe, and Catti-brie pulled back, ready to let fly.

"Robillard!" Drizzt called, and Catti-brie echoed the name a split second later.

"Deudermont's wizard friend?" Bruenor started to ask.

"What are you doing here?" the drow asked, but his words fell away as a second form came through the magical portal behind the wizard, a huge and hulking form.

Regis said it first, for the other three, especially Bruenor, couldn't seem to find a single voice among them. "Wulfgar?"

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