Schroeder had long since lost the sensation in his face, fingers and feet, but through the third night of unforgiving cold he soldiered on. As he emerged from the forest, a dim glow beckoned him out of the darkness; his brother’s lodge, and a dying hearth shining out as it clamoured for fuel. He gently tugged at his horse’s reins and padded on with caution.
Back in the tavern, the men told stories of bandits and exiles roaming these lands in the winter. Schroeder had yet to see signs of life, let alone a demon army scouring the land. He thought of the legend from his childhood, of those relentless shadows stalking a frozen land under the orders of their terrible leader, and how it filled him with a sense of impending doom when he had read it again days before.
Just for a moment, as approached the lodge, hopeful for a reunion with the brother he had not seen since long before this dreadful winter ensnared Ostaria in its icy clutches, he felt that his fears were unfounded.
The door was slightly ajar. Schroder pushed it open. Winter air gushed in, and he found that the room was no warmer than the frozen wilderness he spent the last few days riding through. The last of the hearth’s waning embers crackled and slowly drained the light from the room.
Schroeder twisted his head to the right. A shadow sat at the end of a long table at the far end of the room.
“Klaus?” Schroeder moved forwards cautiously, for the shadow made no movements, nor acknowledged the name addressed to it. “It’s your brother. It’s Schroeder.”
Schroeder reached out his left hand to touch his brother’s shoulder and caught a fleeting glimpse of his dead, frozen eyes and slashed throat before Klaus’ body slumped to the floor. His body had clearly been here for days, if not weeks, with the freezing temperatures staving off decay.
Schroeder wept for his brother. How could someone do something so cowardly, so cruel, to an unarmed farmer? And under the cover of such a grim winter, no less.
After some time, his grieving turned to puzzlement. He looked once more at the hearth. If Klaus had been dead for days, who lit the fire?
Schroeder heard the crunch of fresh snow outside. He drew his sword, took one last look at Klaus, and ran.