The Eternal Winter

Session 3
Fey and Fury

“Those were wintertouched fey,” Njaldur explained, gesturing to the bodies of the tiny blue creatures.  “It’s said that Baba Yaga once made a deal with them, and each accepted a sliver of ice into it’s heart, turning them evil.  They don’t care much for people, it would seem.”

They continued on through the forest and snow.  They were forced to stop again in the afternoon to rest and regain warmth from their fire.

“Look, if you’re superstitious about that sword not working, I can take it off your hands,” Njaldur jabbed at Urtusk.  The kellid drew a piece of roasted horse meat to his mouth and took a bite.  Njaldur let out a sigh and looked longingly into the fire.

After continuing on, they stopped when Holt spotted a strange lump in the snow before them.  He drew his morning star and closed in to investigate.

From the lump slithered a tiny worm-like dragon- a Tatzelwurm.  Shanka lept forward, anticipating the danger, and stabbed the creature with her long spear.  Kazimir’s eyes seemed to sharpen and focus on the creature, then he gestured his hand, stunning the Tatzelwurm with a flash and crackle of light.  Finally, Urtusk leapt in with his axe and laid it low.  He picked it up and placed it on his shoulders as a trophy.

They continued through the snow.

Before them appeared a pure white stag.  It spoke to them, saying that none had passed through when it was asked of recent travelers.  Holt knew that it was lying and he told it so, which provoked it into attacking, along with an atomie and a familiar sprite, wintertouched fey hiding in the white surrounding them.  The fey flung insults, shrinking Urtusk’s axe with magic.

“Watch out, these miniature sword fighters can shrink you!” Njaldur called to his companions, as he drew out his fiddle and began to play a rapid staccato.

Holt, inspired by Njaldur’s music, landed a solid blow on one of the fey.  The stag charged in to wound Shanka, who withdrew only to be struck down by a tiny fey arrow.  Urtusk swung wildly at the fey, and Holt downed the stag too.  Njaldur stopped his inspiring song, while Kazimir drew his sharp gaze to help fell the final fey.

Their ambushers silenced, the group continued on to find Wishbone Creek frozen over.  A sign held by a snowman before it read “Tresspassers turn back!”  Holt threw an acid splash on it, melting it partially.  

“Can’t you read?! TURN BACK!” Shouted the snow man, as he exploded in a punishing wave of sound that bruised Urtusk.

They decided to rest before attempting to cross the river.  Moving off the path, out into the woods a bit, they made their camp as night fell.  Njaldur took first watch, lasting about half of the two hours before he began to play cards with himself for an hour, joking and singing to himself carelessly.

On Shanka’s shift she was ever vigilant.  She felt the restless spirits on the land, and near by their camp.

Holt’s shift was dreary, as he lamented the lack of profits and prospects in this endeavor.  But his ill accounting was cut short by a mass of icy snow plopping down onto the fire, extinguishing it.  Everyone woke to the sound and clamored for their weapons scrambling out into the camp to find frozen trees attacking Holt.  After a short few moments of clammering around in the dark, the frost firs were destroyed.

On Kazimir’s watch, he was attacked by a giant bee, but with a little help from the others, he was able to put it down safely and without suffering it’s poison sting.

In the morning, the group broke down camp and Njaldur took in the cold morning air, as Holt and Kasmir grumbled their way through their morning rituals.  “Thank the gods I’m a country boy,” sang Njaldur as he played his fiddle along along with breakfast.

They returned to the river and made to cross it.  Urtusk went first and made it safely to the other side.  As Njaldur crossed, the ice swam up from the river, forming into elementals that knocked him back into the freezing water.  

Urtusk draged Njaldur free onto the shore. His body temperature droped rapidly, they were forced to remove Njaldur’s clothes while he failed to land a joke.

Holt smashed an elemental, and Njaldur dazed another.  Urtusk threw a spear and slayed the second.  Then they brought the rest of the group and equipment across the river.

Kazimir drew a rod and gave it a twist, morphing it into a strange tool, and sparking a fire with it to warm Njaldur.

Then, near the side of the path, they found a body frozen and lifeless. He was a local farmer that Njaldur recognized as Old Man Dansby.
 

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Session 2
Harried by Winter

Inside one of the emptied wagons they found some of Lady Argentea’s jewelry.  Inside another, the corpses of three courtiers.  They would have to be seen to proper burials, but Njaldur was more concerned with the jewelry and moving on.

They approached the ice statue in the center of the site.  On closer inspection, it appeared to be an Ulfen Mercenary captain frozen in the ice.  In his hand was a quality sword, which they plucked and gave to Urtusk.  

“This is no axe,” Urtusk replied, but begrudgingly carried it, after being convinced it’s fine make would help it strike true.

They went from the massacre site into the woods, following a clear trail of snow.  The winter came in around them, blowing snow and wind piercing through their clothing better suited for the Taldan summer.  Each hour they traveled their stamina was sapped, and they felt the cold slowing the blood in their veins.

After long they came to a clearing, at the center of which they saw a chest, strangely alone as if dropped in flight.  Njaldur and Urtusk went to investigate, Njaldur’s mind racing with the treasure perhaps therein.

A snap sounded, followed by the whooshing of a giant log adorned with spikes swung across the clearing, hung high from a tree.  Urtusk took the brunt of the trap, allowing Njaldur to stumble safely away.  Then they were free to loot the chest.  Inside they found many mundane weapons and gear, which would be worth at least a day’s work.

They continued on a bit further, but decided to turn back for fear that the cold would prematurely end their quest.  They returned to the clearing, and finally to the massacre site.  There they collected the cold bodies of the three courtier girls and went back to Heldren.

With the money they earned from selling the loot, those that did not already have them bought cold weather gear- thick tunics, coats, cloaks and boots to protect them from the unnatural winter in the wood.

From there they went to the Silver Stoat again to unwind.  They spoke of Irrisen- what Njaldur had heard and what Kasimir had saw in his travels.  Kasimir elaborated on ginger breading.  Njaldur asked about the tea set and how it might all be connected to Lady Argentea’s capture.  No conclusions could be made and they would have to save judgment for when the Lady was found, dead or alive.

Njaldur talked them into visiting Ionnia Teppin, the leader of Heldren’s town council, to request a reward for looking into the disappearance and attack.  Although she was annoyed by the request, and Njaldur’s conscripted diplomatic team fell fast from their negotiations, Ionnia agreed to gather two hundred gold pieces from the townsfolk.

Early the next morning they set out again into the patch of winter past the massacre site.  This time the Kellids did not seem so naturally resistant, and the others struggled as well with the biting winds and snow.  Visibility was low and any ranged combat would be difficult, they knew.

Midway to noon, they stopped to make a fire and regain lost warmth.  They spoke then of mammoths and giant sloths that are native to the far north.

They continued on and after a while Holt spotted feathered bundles hanging from the lowest tree branches around them on the path.  The black feathers swing and shifted in the wind.  On closer inspection, pieces of leather were stuck to them with pins, and the bundles were whole dead crows.

Tiny pin sized arrows leapt from the surrounding wood, and blue, winged fey flew out to waylay them.  The fey threw sprays of color form their tiny hands, disabling Shanka and then Kasimir.  Urtusk threw spears and swung wildly at them, roaring with anger, his attacks bolstered by his rage.  Missing twice with the new sword, he threw it to the ground and drew his axe, trusting it's blade more, however less finely honed.

Kasimir’s owl swooped in to protect it’s master, pecking and scratching at the fey.

Holt killed one with splashes of acid and used his blessing of Abadar to move swiftly across the snow.  

Njaldur stalked through the trees after a third.  Out on his own between the trees visibility was low, and the fey was tiny and hid easily behind bough and trunk.  His cloak blowing dramitcally in the wind, but his sword catching more air and bark than fey, Njaldur managed to do some damage to the fey.  Then Holt arrived, moving much more swiftly, and swinging his morning star true, killing the creature.

The last fey retreated out into the cold and snow, cursing them as it went.  Urtusk fell out of rage into a state of fatigue and Shank and Kasimir regained consciousness.  They were alone again in the cold and snow, surrounded only by trees and the grim crow fetishes.

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Letter from Kazimir to Lady Jana Urvalane in Whitethrone

To Lady Jana Urvalane
Glaming Factory
Bluerime Street, Frosthall
Whitethrone in Irrisen

Lady Jana

Strange tidings on my journey in the south.  First, I must inform you that both Ivan and Petr abandoned me when we were in Nirmathas.  I couldn’t persuade them to finish our task and return to Irrisen; my path included booking passage on a boat on Lake Encarthan headed towards Kerse.  They decided that they liked the taverns and warm weather in Tamran.  Fortunately, my later journey on the waterways was not dangerous.

I am writing to you from a small village called Heldren which is less than a day away from the wedding delivery in Zimar.  Just before I arrived, news came through that Lady Argentea left Zimar unwed and headed back to Oppara.  Furthermore, it was discovered that her party had been attacked; her fate is currently unknown.  A small group of people – including me – is investigating the event.  I will make decisions about the delivery when we learn more.

Also, a strange thing occurred just after we learned of the attack.  A wise woman came into the inn where everyone was discussing the news and she got an opportunity to give a Harrow reading.  Now, we both know that, in the right hands, the readings can provide true omens.  We have both seen the Harrow deck used in this way with great veracity.

This reading was quite something.  First of all, each of the nine cards was placed in the tableau with perfect alignment.  Have you ever heard of such a thing, even in old stories?  Could it have been a sleight of hand trick?  Secondly, many of the cards had what seemed to be obvious connections to people in the room, and these same people are participating in the investigation!  At least five of the cards seemed to point at us, including one for me in the very center position.

In addition, there were two oddities.  The middle of the bottom row held The Mute Hag.  This is a dire omen and – given my mission and the calendar – might indicate the imminent return of Great GrandMother.   The other oddity is about the card that pointed at me in the center.  That position held The Foreign Trader which seems to point to me as that is the role I am fulfilling.  The strange part of that is that Foreign Trader doesn’t seem to actually describe me.  The cards do not make mistakes in a True Reading, though.  Was the old crone giving a True Reading or did she set the deck to try to match what she could see, to try to get our group into action?  Does she have a secret agenda?  Are these people in league trying to rob the delivery or perhaps kidnap the Lady Argentea?  Maybe the reading is True and nothing is amiss, other than the obviously dire predictions.

I don’t seem to have much more news other than that these southern lands are hot and humid.  The humidity is good for the skin, but I am not sure that my owl Katja is enjoying the heat.  She does like the additional quarry, though!  Oh!  There is a building in this small village that boasts gingerbreading.  I didn’t expect to see that so far away from home, even though there are so many hardwood trees in this area.  Veritable forests!


Yours,

Kazimir Velikas

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Letter from Kazimir to Lady Aphyria in Oppara

To Lady Aphyria, Mistress of the Pallid Towers,
Oppara in Taldor


Greetings to you, fair lady, and news.  You sent to Irrisen for a fine porcelain tea set to be given as a gift at the wedding of Lady Argentea Malassene in Zimar.  I am the courier who collected the set in the far north and I am engaged in bringing it to the proper recipients.

As I reached Heldren, a town a short distance from Zimar, I learned two pieces of news.  The first is that it seems that Lady Argentea left Zimar early and unwed and headed back towards Oppara.  That created some consternation over the late decision and the dowry.

The second is that Lady Argentea’s party was attacked on their way back to Oppara.  So far, there is no sign of the lady herself, but many of her party are slain and there is evidence of supernatural involvement.  A small local investigation is underway that I am a part of.  We are hoping to find the Lady alive, even if captors have taken her.

Given the unknown provenance of the future, I cannot say exactly where I will be going.  I might get the opportunity to deliver the porcelain to you in Oppara.  There is also a chance that it will be left at The Silver Stoat in Heldren.

My sympathies go to you for these unsettling tidings; I hope that there will be better news in the future,

Kazimir Velikas

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Session 1
What Stirs in Heldren

I could start this story by telling you about a pair of Bearpelt clansmen, one followed by spirits the other offering to oversee her exile. I could tell you about the Varisian merchant coming south from Irissen. Maybe, I could start with telling you about my half-brother coming back to Heldren from whatever poor debtors town the Temple of Abadar assigned him. But I’d rather start with the day that all of our lives became a story worth telling.

The Convergence

The young half-orc entered the smithy and was greeted by Isker and Xanthippe Euphram, father and daughter, smith and apprentice. They exchanged pleasant greetings and asked why Holt was back from the city.

“Heldren has always been good enough for me,” said Isker. “We could use your help around the forge, Holt. You were always a good worker.”

To that Holt politely declined, citing his duties to the Temple of Abadar.

“Well I better get back to these horse shoes,” Isker said, leaving his daughter to speak with Holt.

Xanthippe asked why Holt was back in Heldren, and he explained his task. He was to wait here for a woman.

“A woman?” Xanthippe raised her eyebrows.

“Yes, but for business.” Holt explained that a noble woman had passed through here for a wedding, and would likely be back through on her return to Oppara. Holt was to serve her legal documents, for the wedding never happened and she was to repay her dowry.

“Maybe you’d like to get a drink at the Silver Stoat later,” Xanthippe asked.

“That’d be nice. We can catch up,” replied Holt.

Around nearly the same time Holt was trying to flirt with his teenage sweetheart, a Varisian merchant was making his way into town on horseback. Coincidentally, that was the first time a snow owl had ever been sighted flying near Heldren, white fur standing out like the unseasonal cold gripping the border wood. Heldren wasn’t the kind of place you’d find those wintry things, especially not in the middle of summer.

This Varisian took his time looking over the town. Heldren not being a large place, he quickly found the Silver Stoat and the livery next door. Hesitant, because he would not find a place to stay the night, and therefore might be stuck with his horse stabled here, he spoke with the woman working there.

“That’s a fine horse.  Northern breed?” She asked.

It was.  The merchant, by the name of Kazimir, was on his way through Heldren to Zimar for a wedding.  He had some trouble on the northern road and was a bit behind schedule.  He noticed the carriage in the back of the livery stable.

“An merchant left it to me once.  It broke and I helped calm his horse.  He let me keep it as a gift.  We use it for weddings occasionally, although not much else.”

Kazimir was then directed to the Silver Stoat.  It doesn’t have rooms, but it has food and drink, and the owner will let a paying customer sleep on the floor near the hearth.

On his way to the Silver Stoat, Kazimir noticed something strange about the building across from it and the livery.  It housed the carpenter and his work, but the facade of the building employed a style Kazimir had not anywhere but the city of Whitethrone far to the north, in Irrisen.  The style was known as gingerbreading, and it consisted of intricately stylized carvings along the wood of the building.

Taking note of the Carpenter’s taste, as well as the ancient statue in the center of town, Kazimir turned and entered the Silver Stoat.

A handsome young man, your narrator no less, found himself enjoying a midday nap out under a willow tree just beyond the low stone wall surrounding his mother’s house.

“Where are you, son?” Came his mothers voice, and he jumped up to answer her call, ever the dutiful son.  “What are you doing?” She asked when she saw him approach.

“Er. Uh.  Well… nothing.” He said, at a loss for a little lie that might irritate his mother less.

“Take these four silver coins and go buy some pig feed.  Do not go to the Silver Stoat.  Bring it back and feed the pigs.”

His real name was Rutilus, but he went by Njaldur.  And Njaldur had a keen mind when opportunity presented itself.  He took the four silver coins, but he had a better idea about how to use it.

As he passed the general store, the owner Vivialla saw him and how he jostled the coins in his hand and she shook her head because she was not as keen and didn’t recognize an opportunity like Njaldur did.  Her head was filled with the mundane tasks of a normal life, but not Njaldur.  

His head was swimming with stories and rumors.

The air was unseasonable cold.  Njaldur had heard folks say that Qadiran agents were to blame.  A boy was being nursed back to health after falling through some ice and nearly freezing to death.  People tend to get paranoid when kids get into danger, he figured.  Interesting enough, though, the kid had said that he had heard a “white stag talking”.  To Njaldur, who was no stranger to tales of the mysteries of the wood, or at least the stories told about them, a talking white stag sounded a more likely culprit than Qadirans still harboring a grudge.

Old man Dansby had reported crops being stolen from him.  Njaldur had taken an apple or two that had fallen to the ground, but never could that be construed as stealing.  Someone else was likely filching Dansby’s crops.  Maybe it was the giant white weasel Dryden Kept had sighted.

He finally came to the Silver Stoat and inside he went.

Inside, Kazimir chatted up the bartender, Menander Garimos and his wife Kale, about the goings on, including the strange weather.  Njaldur eyed the apparent wealth on his person, the colorful kapenia, but no visible coin purse, and slid casually by to greet his half-brother, Holt, at a table.

Holt let slip his current mission and Njaldur thought quickly of a way to intrude.  “Heard about that noble woman you seek going west to that wedding, but the wedding never happened.  Heard she was making her way back through here.  Abadar would smile on you paying for that kind of information, wouldn’t he?”

Holt awkwardly dodged the question, and moved his focus to the Varisian man making acquaintances.  They shared what they knew about the wedding. Kazimir revealed his wedding gift- a fine tea set.  Njaldur offered to play some cards for it.  He took out his Harrow deck.  “Do you know Towers?” He asked Kazimir.  “I do,” said the Varisian as he grinned.

Out near the woods, the Kellids made their camp.  Urtusk, the warrior, had caught a ptarmigan, which was odd for this time of year.  He had left the bird by camp and gone out to gather firewood.  Shanka, who was preparing the bird, watched as it’s feathers, laying on the ground around her, all stood and arrayed themselves like a forest, quivering in place, before falling inanimate again.

Urtusk heard a noise and looked to see an injured Ulfen man crawling towards them.  His fingers and ears were black with frostbite.  He picked the man up and carried him back to their camp.  The spirits of smoke and fire were coaxed out to warm him.  Some were kept in an ember pot, which they carry along to take him into town.  He needed warmth, shelter and remedy to begin healing.  As they went, the frostbitten Ulfen mumbled “The Winter Touched are coming…”

In the Silver Stoat, Njaldur threw his cards down in a defeated huff. Kazimir politely pulled his winnings across the table towards himself.  Njaldur drew his fiddle and bow, and playing a song about hungry pigs.

The door crashed open and there stood the two imposing Kellids, the rather large warrior holding someone in his arms.  Njaldur’s fiddle strings squealed and went silent.  Old Mother Theodora sprung into action, hobbling over to a table and ordering the Kellids like her own kin.  “Put him on the table here,” she said as she shoed at the mugs on the table, which were quickly moved to make room.

Njaldur noticed a patch on the frostbitten Ulfen’s shoulder- it signified the Hungry Ravens, a Ulfen mercenary group that operated in the area.  The group once held Njaldur and Holt’s father as their captain, no less.

Shanka studied him, and knew she had not the magic to repair his wounds.  Old Mother Theodora said “We can take him to Willowbark, she can help.  Then I’ll go and speak with Elder Natharen.”  Natharen was the local Erastilian.  Urtusk picked the Ulfen up and took him to Willowbark, the apothecary.  Then he returned to the Silver Stoat.

By then Njaldur has picked back up his fiddle and was playing it wistfully, a feeble attempt to lighten the mood.

The group of them discussed what needed to be done, and how they should act before the trail went cold.  Whatever harmed the Ulfen was still out there.  They decided to talk to him in the morning.

Old Mother Theodora walks behind Njaldur and raps her cane on his chair, nearly knocking him over.  She sits at the table and takes Njaldur’s Harrow deck.  She reprimanded him for using them so carelessly, and Njaldur rolled his eyes.  “I know,” he said. “Anger the spirits and all that.”

Theodora closed her eyes and a silence fell over the room.  The lights seemed to dim.  All the coarse hair on Holt’s arms tried to stand.  Her eyelids twitched half open.  Her hand slowly drew nine cards in a spread:

The Harrowing

The top left corner, indicating a positive force in the past, was The Empty Throne.  That reminds them that those who are gone will always been with them- ghosts to the living.  Ancient knowledge from a far-off source will serve them well.

The middle left card, the unclear past, was The Forge.  It represents strength through diversity, tempered by fire for a trial ahead.  Holt knew that this fate spoke directly to him.

The bottom left card, the negative past, was The Tangled Briar.  It spoke of ancient deeds and one who is powerful yet lost, looming over the reading, bringing that moment upon them.

The top middle card, the positive present, was The Theater.  It was the card of true prophecy- the puppets acting out a scene as the prophet acts out a scene.  The prophet is the audience and the prophecy is the show.  But knowledge of these visions may be a most potent ally.  This was no doubt relevant to Shanka, for she too had visions and played her part.

The center card, the unclear present, was The Foreign Trader.  A bargain made, a commitment formed, under the auspices of this card always concludes true, but the costs are never clear until it is done. Kazimir was paying particular attention to that.

The middle bottom card, the negative present, The Mute Hag.  The hag sees into the hearts of men from a great distance.  This is who opposes them and her power is terrible.

The top right card, the positive future, was The Juggler.  The card of those who toy with fate and destiny.  A tricky task that will be a disaster or the greatest performance ever seen.  Njaldur bristled at the thought of such a thing.

The middle right card, the unclear future, was The Uprising. A great upheaval is in the making. Its great strength and rage catches all in its grasp and does not let go.  Urtusk knew that this card was meant for him.

The bottom right card, the negative future, was The Cyclone.  It portended a great disaster awaiting.  Everything that it touches will be destroyed and it threatens to touch everything.

After reading the cards, Old Mother Theodora was awfully shaken by the strength of the reading.  Every single card was perfectly aligned, a nearly impossible occurrence.  The power of a reading where each card was in it’s strongest position was unbearable to Old Mother Theodora, causing her to faint.  Shanka saw to her and found her to be alright.  Shortly after she reawoke and was walked safely home.  Everyone else turned in for the night, agreeing to meet at the Silver Stoat in the morning to look into the attack outside of town.

On his way home, Njaldur stopped by the general store, the storefront now dark.  He knocked on the door.  “We’re closed,” Shouted the shopkeeper from her window above.  “I just need some pig feed,” said Njaldur goading, jingling the remaining coins in his hand.  Vivailla shook her head and ducked back inside.  Njaldur waited a moment and the door clicked open.  He went inside, paid for the feed and walked the bag back home.  After feeding the pig, he thought it best to sleep in the barn.

The Beginning

Ionnia Teppen met them all at the Silver Stoat, and led them all to the Apothecary to speak to the Ulfen mercenary.

Yuln Orstag was still worse for ware, but he was conscious.  “If your dad was there we would have held them off,” he told Holt and Njaldur.  But he wasn’t, and all ten guards, the lady and her servant were gone, except Yuln.  Outlaws waylaid them and took those they did not kill, beating them as they did.  The battle turned quickly because the outlaws had aligned themselves with cold fey of the north, the Winter Touched, sword to the White Witches.

Yuln also told them that there was snow and ice in the woods, and they had left him for dead in such conditions.  He knew that cold iron and burning flame could harm them.  He gave Njaldur his cold iron longsword.  

“I’ll spill much frozen blood with it,” Njaldur said, holding the blade up before his face.

“That’s just a loan, boy,” Yuln responded.

The group left the Apothecary and traveled the six miles out of Heldren to the massacre site.

They found a wagon turned over, and another wagon still upright, but something shaking it from the inside.  Around the area were many dead bodies, and standing between them a statue of ice.

The shaking wagon had a spear holding the back door closed.  Removing the spear let the doors burst open, and out of it came two of the undead, once living men, but living no more.  But they were vicious none-the-less and clawed and lunged at them.

Urtusk sliced at them with his axe and Njaldur ineffectually drew a daze charm in the air- it did not phase the creature he targeted.  Holt called out that they were immune to such charms, and only slashing weapons would do.  Kazimir used his crossbow to no avail, and Njaldur slipped in to steal a flanking position from his half brother.  After a few violent moments the zombies fell to the ground- cold and dead again.

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