Frozen Midnight

Above The Kodar Mountains
Frozen Midnight

Justice is swift and cruel. Only days ago the warmth of the Varisian plains washed over you. Now, nothing but bitter frost seeps into your bones. Every surface is devoid of life, giving purchase only to the ice.

It’s been weeks of walking along ravines and over passes. The caravan master kept pointing out the next ridge, claiming it to be the last. It never was. Steeper, higher, more deadly they came. Almost half of the convicts lost their lives in the crossing. Those who lived may well wish the cold had taken them.

Down there is Helkger, where Jarl Asgar will bind the thieves and murderers to task. This cannot be good.

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No, I do not want to build a snowman
And don't even start with that other song

We are marched by our captors up through the frozen wasteland to Helkgen. Many others with us did not survive the march. Only my righteous indignation keeps me warm enough.

I always said I could sell ice to a Helkgenian. But there was never any desire to prove it. But here we are, sell one cursed magical item to the wrong noble and this is my fate. I didn’t know it was cursed. Exactly.

I’m stuck in cells with a monk and his keeper, a murderous murder demon and a goody-two-shoes cleric.

Swell.

They plan to send us down into the Hel Hold to fight against advancing evil. What kind of punishment is this? Sure they simply mean to send us to our death.

They summon us into the courtyard and forceably brand our forearms with something that is supposedly a luck brand. It is terribly unsightly. Ugh.

A brief incantation and we are transported to a graveyard with instructions to seek shelter quickly and to get in the pit.

The pit? Where is that? And perhaps we should just take our leave.

Naturally, a ghoul pops up wile noshing on a bit of bone.

While we’re aimlessly firing shots at the ghoul, a rodent of unusual size blindsides me from the north east. Dammit. Why did it have to be rats?

I stab one in the tail and I get bit a couple of times. The rest of the party responds admirably and kills the rats before I can really respond. Which is lovely but then the ghast pops up again and brings a friend this time. There are too many of the ghasts. And I can’t see a thing in this blasted snow.

But I hear that a ghast takes the murdery demon out into the snow and eats his heart. And the monkish one gets devoured as well.

I can’t seem to hit a thing in this mess and waste any number of arrows. The rest of the ghasts get away. And we’re left with a slightly smaller party. And not really sure what to do.

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Take two
Perhaps we won't lose 1/3 of the party this time

So it’s cold. Very cold and I’m not really dressed for this. I’m used to being in much more warm environments. Making my presentations. Wooing the prospective buyers. I warm my brain indulging in such memories.

Welstiril’s reedy voice snaps me out of my reverie. He urges us to seek shelter in a nearby mausoleum. Normally, I would balk at such a thing. My icy feet protest mightily and I’d rather not lose a toe. I like the natural symmetry of my feet the way they are.

We make our way against the wind and snow. Welstiril drags the sad frozen body of his ward behind him. Clinging to a stubborn belief that he will be able to somehow undo his massive failure. His faith is somewhat charming.

We fight our way to the mausoleum. There’s light and noise inside and I peek inside to see a person working feverishly over what looks to be a corpse. Welstiril wastes no time dragging his frozen charge in and dumps the body in front of the person just as they reach out to the corpse and frozen Meklor receives the boon instead.

Yeah, you heard that right.

There is also a half-orc present. Sitting stoically. He claims he just stumbled up here and got slapped with the luck tattoo and transported to the pit. He won’t cop to whatever crime sent him northward. In fact he insists there was none. That he left his village of his own volition. I don’t believe it.

We hunker in the mausoleum. Eating some trail rations. This is a far cry from the type of hall I normally hunker down in. There’s no crackling hearth or buxom serving wenches bringing overflowing flagons of beverages. Preferably hot beverages. And toasty warm pies. And warm baths. And blankets. Especially blankets.

Sigh.

The night passes slowly. I am unable to summon even a decent story.

I examine the bite on my arm. It looks ok. But I better keep an eye on it for a while. Sometimes it takes a while for sickness to fester. If it’s going to fester. Real festery.

We ransack the place respectfully (of course). And I get a nice fur lined magical armor out of it. So that’s nice.

Now we’re going to head back into the cold to see if there’s any escape from this wretched place. I am not optimistic.

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Synopsis of the Mausoleum (West)

Shelter was found. Inside was a branded criminal with the mark of luck, who had found a way to invoke the brand as if it contained magic. He traded his life for the life of his dead partner, whose female body lay at his feet. Just as he was about to raise the dead by laying his hand upon her, Welsteril threw Meklor’s body in the path and the magic was expended on the monk. The cleric was then consumed in flames.

The party stayed the night, but nothing attempted to gain entry to eat them.

Meklor had a strong thirst, then discovered water would not slack it. He felt like he wanted the blood coursing through the veins of his living companions.

The party searched for secret passages in the crypts built into the stone pews. They did not find any, but one of the entombed dead was wearing +1 leather with endure elements (cold). Ben took it and gave Grom his +1 leather armor. Grom switched armor.

The party has decided to investigate the cross and stone carvings, then make for either the southern or eastern mausoleum.

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Back into the cold (Ben)
Feels good to me...

We make our way across to a mausoleum to the east, but it’s locked and we can’t get in.

We make our way to the south and find the same. In heading north we examine the statue a little more closely and we pull the rod out of the statue’s hands. We use that as a key to open the mausoleum.

By examining the tomb, it’s pretty clear that the floor moves up and crushes all within. It’s possible that we aren’t going to trigger that since we didn’t break in.

But that doesn’t keep Brother Jerome from rushing outside and nervously watches the ceiling.

Grom has to go pawing through the gems and such and that awakens the skeleton of the dwarf who was buried here. Oh skeletons. I never seem to have a bludgeoning weapon at hand. I try to fascinate the creature but it has no mind. I settle for inspiring courage among the troops with a stirring bit of speech I picked up from old Willy S. It seems to work better for them than me as I also nearly put out Grom’s eye with an errant arrow.

Oh good, the suspicious looking gargoyles fly on in to attack. Yay. One immediately bites me and then the room goes dark. Yippee.

Grom and Meklor fail to contain the skeleton. He disappears into the dark. One gargoyle grabs Brother Jerome and flies off with him.

Welsteril runs after and scorches him. But doesn’t quite make the gargoyle drop. So up up it flies and drops Brother Jerome on the steps in front of the mausoleum.

The skeleton re-appears and I take another bite from the gargoyle. So I move around the corner and swig a cure potion before hopping back in on the action. Such as it is. Since I don’t have much that will do damage on these guys at all.

But the skelly kills Grom and in my rage (despite the fact that I hardly knew the half-orc) I charge and attempt to bludgeon him with fists. I did no damage however…

But I did draw the ire of the gargoyle along with another good bite. Ouch.

Brother Jerome lays a firebolt on the skelly which puts him down. Which also caused the gargoyles to drop to the ground.

At last. Too late for Grom. We heal up and plan to rest in the western mausoleum.

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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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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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…

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