Frozen Midnight

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So, we barely got a mo to savor the moment of dragon slaying when we hear an angry horde of giants making their way towards us.

It starts with a lot of them but Silly crushes half of them in a wind tunnel. Shalelu and I put down a bunch of them easily. Sherby lights some on fire. Melthus gets some licks in.

But in addition to the regular ho-hum giants we kick the crap out of is a big old Rune giant intent on killing us all. Yikes.

I do quite a bit of damage to him, but I remain too close and get singed and zapped. Silly casts destruction on him twice! And I finish him while Not PieHole dances around taking selfies of himself with the corpse.

He has another ring. So that’s good. We have choices to face the twins or some other nasty minion. We’re going to sleep on it.

What Could Go Wrong?

The Mouth of Doom didn’t look too deadly. One of Zelkor’s riverboat Captains offered to bring you upstream and deposit you on a nearby landing so you could avoid any Gnolls. That worked out well, but the destination was still creepy and probably deadly.

The outside of the ruin was made to look like an enormous cavern, flanked by fleshless priest statues. A deep descending tunnel eventually lead to an underground chamber, obviously built by men and long deserted. The chamber had several exits, and most of those turned out to be trapped. Pits, a portcullis that almost imprisoned Meklor, and a magical mouth spouting portents of doom made the whole experience unpleasant.

The ruined contained twisting maze-like corridors and several rooms once used for all manner of nastiness. Then came the fiery giant cobra.

What looked like a vast chamber of worship was awash in the glow of green fire erupting from a pair of braziers. Its tall ceiling was held in place by strong pillars, carved with unholy figures performing carnal acts of sin. At the far end of the room there lay a giant snake wreathed in flame, and it smelled the approaching food…er…heroes.

Most of the crop fell in behind Meklor, using his magically-enhanced body as a meat shield against harm. But a band of bandits had been following the party down the halls, waiting for them to become involved in a fight so an advantage could be won. The giant snake seemed a good enemy-of-my-enemy.

The bandits engaged Barak with a shield and bow tactic, attempting to distract him with a hard defensive line of shields

Ullman Dark Can Raise The Dead?

In a sense, Ulman Dark could return life to the dead. It was a risky proposition, though. Risky in the sense that it rarely worked as expected…if it worked at all. The cost had to be paid up front, just in case worse turned to worst.

Hel Hold’s latest “crop” returned to Zelkor’s Ferry carrying both parts of Ben. None knew if both parts would be required by the necromancer, should he be able to perform some miraculous cure. It seemed prudent to bring both parts, if only in that Ben probably wanted them together in death as in life.

Ulman advised against a resurrection, citing the poor probability of success and the rather mundane result of raising a dead thing back to a living thing. He noted that it would be more interesting to attempt to create a deader thing from the dead. Something with a bit more power and some nice dangling rotted flesh.

The crop decided against the advice, and straws were drawn to see who would have to donate living tissue and blood to aid in the coming ritual. Well, not exactly straws. Everyone who could invest gold, silver or gems got to keep their blood. Barak, the penniless, got to donate.

Days passed, and Ben began to really put a stink on. Barak looked wane from the daily leechings, transfusions, and ingestions of gag-inducing concoctions. On the day everyone believed was the last that Barak could endure, Ben’s eyes fluttered open.

Ulman was grieved, even as the party cheered his success. As a necromancer of some great capability, he sensed that something was missing from Ben. An examination revealed that Ben’s soul was missing. Ulman was not surprised, as he had long believed that those who died in and around Zelkor’s Ferry were cursed to have their souls stolen away by the old ruin near the Mouth of Doom.

Suspenseful music seemed to suddenly fill the air as Ulman explained that a nearby ruin once served as the secret exit from a Temple dedicated to Orcus. The priests there had grown wilder and more dangerous to the surrounding lands until the Jarl was forced to deal with them. A band of heroes endowed with the light of the divine was tasked to bring down the evil temple.

They slew every remaining priest in that place, and destroyed every reminder of its wickedness. But, in their fervor to rid themselves of the unholy worshippers, they left behind the high-priest’s symbolic token to his ghastly god, Orcus. Ulman recounted how he believed the rod still existed, there in the Temple ruins. The rod, he said, was surrounded by the bones of the dead priests and drew the escaping souls of those killed in the local area to itself. A soul so drawn was trapped in the chamber of the priests and could not travel to its ultimate destination.

Ulman then told you that Ben’s soul was trapped in that ruin. It could be rescued, though. All you had to do was enter the probably abandoned sinister dark hole in the earth and ferret out a room full of skeletons hiding the almost certainly very deadly rod of Orcus.

Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.

Who Knew Gnolls Could Ambush?

The Old Path, called such by Odo Bristleback of Zelkor’s Ferry, made its meandering way farther west than the Stirge caves. Odo said it rounded the lake and eventually turned north to the Jarl’s domain. On its way east, however, it crossed a middling fork of the Swamp Cut River. A narrow wooden bridge spanned the fast flowing water, just wide enough for two horses or a merchant’s wagon.

As you made your way across the span a rain of long-shaft arrows flew from the far side of the bridge. Whoever set them to flight was hiding in the deep snows surrounding the Ford. For those who had the shortest path to the far side, dashing forward was the best choice. Some had not begun to cross, so they returned to the near shore. Gnolls rushed the far shore, attempting to take the heroes there by sword and bow. The arrows rarely pierced armor, but the curved swords of the dog-like creatures cut deeply.

The near shore initially appeared free of foes, but that was because the Gnolls there had planned to sneak up and attack those attempting to retreat. Their tactic was successful, aided by the deep banks of snow and the loud conflict across the river. The battle did not seem to be going well.

Meklor was able to hold his ground, until a deadly cut nearly brought him to face his maker (once again). Arrows whittled away at each man. In turn, however, the Gnolls were equally cut low. Their ambush had taken a turn for the deadly, and they determined to make a hasty escape back into the surrounding hills.

The fight had turned into a run-and-catch attempt to flee on the part of the Gnolls. They ran, you caught, and they died. On the near shore, Ben became separated from his companions and tried to circle back to the party. He nearly made it. Then the slashing sword of his tenacious Gnoll opponent found its mark on his throat. Ben saw the world tumble and the snow rise up to meet his eyes. In the moments before blackness took him, he realized he was looking back up at his body as blood erupted from its neck and it dropped to the ground.

“Oh, I think they cut off my head.”

Inside the Stirge Cavern
Who put river trolls in this cave?

It didn’t take long to discover that Stirges were the least of Vort’s worries. At the back of the cave you stumbled upon a river troll soaking in a hot spring. Battle unsued.

Seconds later, the discovery that trolls regenerate their wounds faster than you can deliver them convinced you that running away was FINALLY the correct course of action. Just in time, as the second river troll attacked from an adjoining cavern.

Amazingly, retreat actually worked. The river trolls were not interested in fighting creatures capable of wielding fire. They just wanted a warm bath. While they kept guard in the cavern the stirges were located in a crawlway just off the main cavern.

Welsteril was able to roast most of the stirges with his pyrotechnics. However, with the room cleared it was evident that Vort had never made it to the Stirge cavern. Perhaps he had lost his nerve or just wanted to make a show for Tallie rather than fight the stirges.

Looking to the cloudy sky, the sun said there was enough time to make it back to Zelkor’s Ferry before sunset. The heavy snow cover would make the walk slow. The Gnoll ambush waiting at the Ford would make it deadly.

Vort Goes Missing
A boy's crush causes trouble

It’s been a few days settling into rooms and hiring Big Morgan to melt down your silver treasure to coat your weapons. The thought that Filaar or Jarvick might betray you has you on guard, and there’s not much better to guard against wererats than silver.

In an abandoned lighthouse tower on the shore of the Swamp Cut river, Odo informed you that there was a necromancer capable of excising the tainted blood in Melkor’s veins. That thought brings back bad memories. Memories that should have been left on the trail from Hel Hold to Zelkor’s Ferry.

In the first day of travel, Melkor became unusually thirsty. He went through all of the water in the party and that did not sate him. Then it started getting strange. In secret, he had been gathering woodland animals and drinking their blood. It’s possible Welsteril was helping him, but maybe he did it all on his own. By the second day, Melkor was hungry. Everything he ate did nothing to fill his need for flesh. You started to wonder what kind of flesh would satisfy a recently resurrected monk slain by ghouls. Ok, there was no need to wonder.

The necromancer named himself Ulman Dark. He appeared to be less dark and more just creepy. Ulman believed he could sense a deathly ill in Melkor’s blood, and recommended a transfusion. Short straw ended up in Barak’s hand and he laid down on Ulman’s table. There were needles and tubes that convinced everyone to leave quickly. Ulman requested you call back in a day.

A day later Melkor felt much better. Barak was pleased to have the tubes removed and took a long bath. He would have enjoyed it had Odo’s stableboy not turned up missing from the night before.

It seemed Vort, the stablehand, wanted to impress Tallie, the tavern waitress, and decided to go off hunting stirges in a distant cavern. He had not returned by midday, and that had everyone worried. The keelboat Captain of the Lucky Oak was thought to have given the boy a ride upriver, but he was not to be found either. Probably just best to wait until Vort returns or turns up dead. OR…

A day’s trudge through the snow west of Zelkor’s brought you to the river caves where Vort went in search of Stirges. There were plenty of fouled tracks at the entrance. Too many to be just a boy, and Stirges don’t make tracks on the ground. Probably just best to turn around and tell Odo that Vort was not to be found. OR…

The Town of Zelkor's Ferry
Rivertown on the Swamp Cut River

This is a small trading post and fortified inn, surrounded by an ancient and crumbling stone curtain wall with wooden guard-towers that were clearly built in later years for added defense. The gates of the fort are closed and manned by two bowmen who scrutinize the adventurers closely, but since most visitors to Zelkor’s Ferry are armed and dangerous-looking they are unlikely to bar the party from entering unless the characters do or say something extremely stupid. Ten kobold skulls have been nailed to the gate as a mild warning to would-be attackers.

You’ve come to realize that the tavern owner, Odo Bristleback, runs the rivertown. He’s not so much a Vinni as he is a landlord for those who have gathered on the peninsula. He hires the guards and pays them from the rent and tax he collects from those who are protected within the stone wall of Zelkor’s Ferry.

Zelkor’s Ferry is a landing for Keelboat Captains plying their trade on the Swamp Cut River. The men working the river live aboard but spend their coin in town. They trade with old Rasmus Pye, owner of the general post.

The small town boasts a broad range of services, having to fend for itself months at a time when the winters bear down hard. Bristleback Inn stores what food is harvested and collected for tough times. Meals can be purchased as well as moderately comfortable rooms. Big Morgan’s Smithy provides metalworks for daily life, though he has demonstrated some skills in armor and weapon repair as well. Rekkr warriors live in a large barracks, though Odo Bristleback says there used to be more of them before the Gnolls began camping to the southwest. Ulman Dark lives in an old lighthouse tower by the shore, practicing his herbalistic version of necromancy. Nothing he does is cheap or clean, or effective. But it’s better than remaining injured.

Filaar and Jarvick's Story

Rolling up the long sleeves of her overcoat, Filaar tells you, “The Forest of Hope can mark you in ways the Jarl cannot.” Her arms lack the brand indicating her servitude to The Pit. “I was born here, though farther west and inland than this forest. I met Jarvick traveling the Swampcut.” She points to the slow river passing Zelkor’s Ferry.

“We had never gone farther east than the Ferry. Not much to see there, and the Coast Road serves as trade route overland. No need for a river boat’s supplies. Jarvick kept hearing tales of great wealth coming out of the coastal ruins, though. He always wanted to see what the fuss was about.”

Filaar pulls down the right shoulder of her fur and shows a row of teeth marks, long scarred over. “They had taken up in a deserted manor along the Coast Road, using it as a base to raid the caravans. We thought them just thieves, and not having anything to steal, figured they would leave us be. But they had other plans for us. Of the eight in our group, they killed six and roasted them for supper. Jarvick and I did some fast talking and ended up taking their kiss. Their rat-curse was in us then, and we learned to live with it.”

Filaar’s story continues to describe the years since then. The rat lycans came and went, until there was only her and Jarvick of the original mischief. Tunnels were dug into The Pit that they could navigate quickly, avoiding the worst of the threats. The “crop”, as she calls sentenced criminals sent to descend into Hel Hold, created a steady supply of those in need. It was not long before her mischief became an outpost trade between Zelkor’s Ferry and the upper levels of Rappan Athuk’s Deep Hold.

“We can reach locations in the first five or six levels. The old dwarven Deep Hold is carved out of the softer soil of the swamp. Below that, we cannot burrow. Below that, we would not wish to burrow. Hel Hold is deep, and there are rewards for doing the Jarl’s work clearing out the evil, but it leaves its scars upon your life.”

More ghouls
why did it have to be ghouls

There we are stuck at the top of the stairs with a trap on the top stair. And a bunch of ghouls hooting in the dark. Great.

When they figure out that no one is stuck in the trap they run off. I try to trick them back over with my excellent oratory but they are having none of it.

We leap over the now exposed trap and kill the remaining ghoul.

There is a skeleton covered in red bugs sitting at a table. He has a stack of cards in front of him. That has to be a good thing, right? There’s an ace of spades right on top of that deck! I grab the card and immediately feel rather weak. Hmm. That seems kind of rotten. I mean, leaving the deck out there all enticingly. And then it’s terrible card. Huh.

Maybe I should take another?

But no, the party beckons me to jump across the pit trap. I follow the ginger orc. Too closely as we both tumble into the pit. Ouch!

Mecklor joins us in the pit and then climbs up to the top easily and gets out. Hmmm. How does that work. He promptly gets attacked by one or more ghouls. I back into a corner and take a shot at the elbow of one. There’s a furious battle and ghouls end up on the losing side of it surprisingly.

We proceed deeper into the dungeon.

We find a big room with a stone table. And in the table we find a bunch of vials that are apparently full of embalming fluid. Yuck. There isn’t anything else there. So we move south.

Into a cavern where a rat like lady is feeding a bunch of rats. A river runs across the room. I talk to the woman and she wants to know if we want to trade for rations or torches. I’m surprised at the quality of her wares. She gets them from a nearby ferry. And we strike a deal with her to take us to the ferry where we can do more trading. She warns us that we won’t be able to escape from there. But perhaps we can find a way to better our prospects!

But soon we will make our way to the Ferry. Where hopefully there are inns and crackling fires and stories to be told and women to be bedded.

Perhaps we won’t come back and will simply make our life in the forest of hope.

Underground at last (Ben)
It stinks down here

So we spend some rest time at the western mausoleum and heal up a bit and give Grom a some semblance of a proper burial.

Well, some words and a sprinkling of snow. After all, we didn’t know him that well.

We melt enough snow to keep hydrated for the day. And gnaw on some less then enjoyable rations. This isn’t going to be much fun. And we haven’t even found our way to the underground, like we were ordered to.

We make out way back to the south mausoleum again to loot it properly. We do find all kinds of goodies. And we find a gingery orc. And a way into the dungeon at last! Huzzah. The gingery orc tells a tale of a losing battle with a horrible creature that destroyed his party.

We don’t have any better ideas. We were told to go underground. So underground we will go.

The gingery orc leads us down there and stumbles right into some corrosive green slime. We manage to boil that off. And then Meklor does the same thing. Sigh. We manage to clear that as well. And then we try to do a better job of making sure the ceiling is clear before we wander into more traps.

Which Barak the ginger orc immediately does by stepping on a false step. He manages to jump back without impaling his foot. But just barely.

This doesn’t bode well.


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