Drannor'toril

Arrival
Murryl's Journal the First

25th of Eleint DR 1371 The Fading

We’ve made it. It took an extra week and a half longer than we had planned, but the caravan I’ve been traveling with has finally reached its destination, and not without its dangers. We lost two of our companions, one along the way during a nighttime raid and the other just as we had reached the town’s gates (we were suspiciously attacked by hulking snow beasts at our arrival).

All’s well that ends well, or so these surface dwellers like to say; and it seems my journey north has indeed ended pleasantly. I’ve found room and board for two tendays as well as a need for my craft. There appears to be only one weaponsmith in the vicinity, and I imagine I can hone my craft enough to get these surface-lings to appreciate it enough to trade for it.
My confidant from Luskan has yet to arrive, but I expect he’s likely to show up at some point. He was a resourceful fellow, even if he is a “pointy-eared,” but I do need to pay him his share of the profits, not sure what for, though…

My traveling companions also seem to be staying in this inn, tonight. I imagine there aren’t too many beds to be found. I was too nervous of the great big open sky to really listen to what the caravan leader was saying about the different locales, along with the great number of people… still haven’t gotten used to it. The solitude of the journey north still lingers in my mind. It was much easier to focus.
Well, some fellow named Slim was asking for the lot of us, so I should better go see what’s up. I think I hear my companions in the hall, now…

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The Shadows of Bryn Shander
Murryl's Journal the Second

26th of Eleint DR 1371 The Fading

It’s not the cold I’m not used to, but this blasted fluffy, slushy shit. Its everywhere, and it makes my already difficult pacing even that much more slower.
As it stands, I’m currently writing this while in fact standing guard over a merchant warehouse with the rest of my traveling companions. Bell finally managed to hoist himself up onto the roof, but I’ve no inkling as to why someone in their right mind would do something of the sort.

Oh! I must write about the previous evening. Glancing back at the last entry, I remember that I left off just before going to see Slim with Bell and Mr. Decroder. It was not so much of a meeting as it was a massacre. Four bodies, in fact, ended up on the ground, three of which were our doing. Turrel also managed to find his way to us just at this moment. I was wondering when I’d see “pointy-ears” again, but I’d dare not say that to his face, lest I’d want the wrong end of a dagger, most likely. We met Slim in his room, but it must have been a mistake. There was a dead surfacer laying there on the ground, bleeding out. Turns out this was Aarun, the fellow we were ‘sposed get the weapons to. He had a note on his body signed by Mithann, a local priestess. Well, Slim escaped out the window and I gave chase! Clangeddin’s Beard, I wasn’t going to let this slimy rat get away so fast! But once again, due to my meager stature, I failed in keeping speed.

But blast it, none of that seems to matter no more. There are weirder things about in this Brynshander. Many attacks other than the encounter with Slim have come our way, none provoked by us. Most of ’em seem to be wearing some sort of black ice on their persons. A strange wicked material that causes the wearer to go stark mad over time and be overtaken by an immense desire for violence. I know this because I myself put on a ring which I found on one of our defeated attackers. It immediately bound itself to my flesh and drained my mental prowess. Fortunately for myself, there is a temple nearby dedicated to some surface “sun” god. The priestess there, Mithann, was kind enough to remove the curst ring. I am most interested in this “sun” god as well as the entire idea of the “sun.” It seems strange to have a large flaming orb hovering around the sky, lightening and darkening at its whim. Strange place, this surface world. Mithann told us something about shapechangers and lycanthropes, and that Aarun was actually purchasing these weapons (which are in fact beautiful SILVER weapons!!) in order to slay these creatures. We went back to that merchant, D, and he offered to give us the weapons in exchange for a nights worth of guard duty. He seemed pretty nervous.

I must also record something that has indeed touched my heart very much. In this Brynshander, and I assume throughout all of these Icewind Dales, there seems to be an outcast people, called Burburans. They are big, stocky surfacers with intricate braids and oddlooking personal affects. They are, however, honorable and mighty, indeed. Or at least they appear to be. I have taken up supporting their cause, as it seems we share a connection. Two outsiders in society, looked down upon and shoved to the margins of the world we live in. I have come here, past the Spine of the World, to build a new life for myself where one might be welcomed and accepted, even if an outcast in the Southern portion of this land. Waterdeep was cruel, but not as cruel as the Underdark. Icewind Dale, I hope, will allow me a home.

That is why I cannot sit idly by and watch another people be oppressed. These Burburbans had a companion, but as he had broken some minor law, he had been sentenced to being locked up in the center square of the town and left to the elements over night. A sentence which surely means death. I have taken the liberty of asking the sun priestess for help. Together we took the Burbur body back to the temple for preservation in hopes that he may be resurrected.

I have just come from speaking with the Burburans again and have told them of their companion’s body’s whereabouts. They thanked me, and we are to meet tomorrow morning at the temple to discuss further plans. I hope to get some rest and time for mental focus during this nightly guard duty. We may travel many miles tomorrow.

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Night Guard
Murryl's Journal the Third

27th of Eleint 1371 DR Year of the Fading

The night went by, but not without its dangers. Of course, we were attacked in the night; and of course, we were attacked just as I was sipping my blasted tea. Seems these silver weapons were highly sought after, or perhaps they still are…

Well, we were attacked, and quite obviously we survived, or I wouldn’t be penning this entry just now. My companions are to be deemed formidable, and though I daresay that I blacked-out during the end of the fight, Mr. Decroder, Bell, and my friend Turrel stood their own and slew the last assailant. Not to say that I didn’t bury an axe or two, ’cause I sure did. It seems the adrenaline rush and awareness I experienced whilst fleeing the Underdark still stays with me. After resting my mind for a short few seconds, I feel more aware and in focus with my surroundings. I must study this…

We resorted to seeking out the Barbarians, Ostin and Garund or something or other. They seem good-hearted, though stoic. I find them agreeable. We’ve met back up with the Maideness caravan leader, Helda. After a few rounds of ale (I know I don’t usually do that sort of thing, but it seemed appropriate) and a short brawl with Bell, we set off. I wish we could have found Dongthrower, though. He seems a little green, but Bell had taken a liking too him. Not sure what that was all about. He does wear some pretty flamboyant clothing…
We’re a day out on our journey. Not so much has happened now, but we did run into some fairly savage wolves. Now we have some pretty savage-looking wolf pelts…

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The Frozen Road North
Murryl's Journal the Fourth

27th Eleint 1371 DR Year of the Fading

I wish I was back in that damned room I’d rented fort two tendays. This caravan ride is getting to be more than what my companions and I bargained for. Mr. Decroder’s recklessness isn’t helping the situation either. Just earlier today, Mr. Decroder saw a small burial cairn off the side of the trail and decided to run right up to it and wake the dead. The cairn was, I believe, for some surface-dwelling dwarven clansmen, of whom I know nothing, but I imagine Miss Silverstream knows much more…

Whilst slewing the undead surface-beards, a strange and mysterious figure approached bringing with her a reassuring calmness which I haven’t felt in many, many decades. This woman was dressed strangly as well, but not in the way of Bell. She wears more natural and utilitarian clothing. Oh! And her small white fox kept prancing around with Jam Jom. Weird.

It seems that this woman, Freyja is her name, shall be accompanying us for a while, a least. We are close to Kelvin’s Cairn, and Freyja was headed in the same direction… something to do with a dwarven outpost or somesuch. Miss Helda seemed concerned. So concerned, in fact, that we missed another fine opportunity to try and progress our relationship.
Looks like the tower is just ahead there on the trail. ‘Spose we’ll stop here and go check it out. I hope my companions don’t do anything rash, and that we can get paid and turn back to that town. After helping the Barbarians, too, I might add.

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Golden Bands
Freyja's Thoughts

With my eyes closed I breathe deeply and slowly. I feel Fönnreyf’s presence near, where he always is when we commune – arm’s length, no closer. His own breaths match my own and I open my eyes to survey the arrangement of small objects laid out between us on the tanned elk hide.

Mechanically, my hands stretch out to touch each in turn, these objects of memory which I have unbraided from my hair, which has never been cut and now lays splayed around me to the floor. Black, which marked me from birth as an outsider within my own people, with a streak of white that appeared on that cold and still night when my son was born, just as silent and cold, until Fönnreyf came and we together healed him and myself.

Our communion has always come to be symbolized by these items we carry, seemingly insignificant, but with an unseen weight of significance. I let my hands be drawn to one, as always, in which to meditate upon and consider what lies before us and what has passed beyond us.

On this sunless morning, we have awoken with hundreds of tons of stone above our heads, in a stone room with stone furnishings in the Hold of the dwarves of the Vale. We are guests of Stokely Silverstream, the Dain of a sundered people. I had accompanied and fought alongside three of his soldiers: Baern Khurkal, Yedek the Silent, and Skain Foehammer when it was realized that we’d both tracked the same foes: shuffling undead dwarves disturbed from their rest and in possession of objects of Black Ice, the cursed affliction that the tundra animals have spoken of as originating from Kelvin’s Cairn, itself a place that chills my heart. I was only a small child when I picked my way through a field of corpses to find my father Skírnir there. Like most of the Elk Tribe and the Reghedmen, he had lost his life in that great battle where Akar Kessell was defeated. But my fingers today do not stray to the lock of my father’s red hair. Instead, I brush against a carved golden ring, something I have not thought of in some time.

“You see, Freyja?” said Hedrun. “There are two of them and they match perfectly! Aren’t they beautiful? They belonged to some foolish explorers my father came across. He said they were already half-dead from the cold. Southern soft townfolk… it was a mercy to slay them, I’m sure.”

Hedrun’s blue eyes glittered. She was so beautiful with her fair hair so light. I wished that mine was like hers and still clung to the hope that mine would lighten so I would not stand out. Hedrun was older than me by only a few years but she was my friend, my only friend. We both were… different, somehow. Fönnreyf said I should tell her about him, though. I didn’t understand but obeyed. In those days, I hated being different so I hardly ever sought to argue. I found her father’s act criminal and cruel, though it reflected our people’s past glories before we’d allied with the townsfolk against Akar Kessell, but I held my tongue.

“Yes, they’re beautiful, Hedrun,” was all I replied.

“One is for you and one is for me,” she declared. “Because we’re the same. True sisters. True friends.”

She held one out for me and I knew I wanted that ring. I wanted it more than anything, though I had never understood the southrons’ desires for gold and gems. You could not eat it or use it as a tool. It was — artificial — to care so for it. But this time, I reached greedily to grab for it only after my hand was in motion silently thanking the fact that I still wore my mitten as I took it from her bare hand. Fönnreyf had warned me also to never touch Hedrun’s bare skin.

As I gazed down at the ring, I began to think it strange how much I had wanted to take what she’d offered and I wondered if she had used some kind of power on me. We both could do small tricks and we would show one another all the while knowing we would be shunned if anyone else knew our secrets. A coldness settled on me as I thought about her manipulating me and my anger gave voice to my earlier thoughts.

“Thank you, Hedrun,” I said. “It is unfortunate that your father bought this with blood, however. If he had saved those explorers instead, they might have been his out of respect and gratitude.”

Hedrun cackled. I never liked her laugh. It was only ever for mocking. “Grow up, Freyja. Stop being so weak.”

I looked her in the eye. “It is a weakness to allow greed to control you into evil acts, Hedrun. Mercy and sacrifice are offered by the true strong ones.”

“I gave that to you because you’re supposed to be my friend!” she yelled, probably too loudly as we were not supposed to spend time with one another. She stood angrily and turned her back to me and strode back towards the tents. “You’d better start acting like one or I won’t share with you again.”

As she left, another coldness suffused my heart, that of my ever-present loneliness. I realized then it was not a hunger for the gold I had wanted more than anything, but for her friendship.

I wondered, holding the ring again, if Hedrun still carried its twin wherever she roamed now, tortured and alone, out on the tundra. I hoped she was not alone but in my heart I knew she must be, as I am. Or was I?

The dwarven trackers, after I had saved them from death with my healing hexes, had told me I would be welcome in Stokely’s Hall. We had battled together against the followers of Barak Hammerstone, once kinsmen of the Silverstream clan but who had, we’d learned, split violently from them after Barak had accompanied a traveler to Kelvin’s Cairn and returned with finely crafted objects of Black Ice which his people carry but did not save them as they attacked the Silverstream dwarves and myself.

I had enjoyed battling and traveling alongside Baern, Yedek, and Skain and perhaps that was why I agreed to find their kinswoman, Helda Silverstream, and warn her of the Hammerstones’ treachery.

Helda was accompanied herself with some southern mercenaries: a strange-looking gray dwarf named Murryl, a flamboyant archer named Bell, a quiet crossbow-wielding half-elf named Turrell and an elven warrior named Todd Decroder with a pet cat. When we met, they battled more of these undead dwarves and then I accompanied them back to the Vale. Also with them were two men from Bryn Shandor, Gunnolf and Osten, who had some Reghed blood and wished to join the Elk Tribe, the people of their ancestry they had never known. Disturbingly, they also said that the Elk Tribe was in some kind of danger, though my feelings are mixed as to how to address this. They had heard this from Hengar, who I remembered as being around my own age, but had not known well. In Bryn Shandor, Hengar was accused of theft, I learned, and left to die in the cold. That injustice would be answered, I’d silently promised.

The mercenaries fought well, if somewhat inconsistently, against the zombies and also more of the Hammerstones. Though the adventurers seemingly possess the ability to survive the tundra, they are nonetheless the same as all townfolk in their greed for gold. Guests in the Halls of Stokely Silverstream, they still dicker and bargain and demand more and more when asked for help against these undead that plague them. Stokely wishes also to end the rift with Barak Hammerstone peacefully and believes the same solution to end the plague of Black Ice will bring that to fruition. Alas, the mercenaries demand more coin, for even that service which should be the goal of any living person in these lands.

I weave the golden ring into my braid in the practiced sequence with the other items. Could these men be the friends I seek? More likely we will be temporary allies. I have agreed to lead Gunnolf and Osten to the Elk Tribe, or at least as close as I will get, but first we will descend into the mountain where the dwarves mine for their precious treasures. My allies go for the promise of gold while I go for more answers about this Black Ice and to repay the hospitality of the Hall. As with Hedrun, this conflict of desires will likely divide me from these men whose lives are now in my care. Even the dwarves, as steadfast and plain-speaking as they have been, have a consuming greed to take from the ground until it is bare. I will continue as before, alone.

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Endless Tunnel of Darkness
Freyja's Thoughts

Fönnreyf… I don’t wish to die in this starless hole. I need to see the sky. I need to breathe clean air.

Holes can be pleasant and cozy so long as you have food and a way out. You have both. You will not die here. Do ask Murryl for some more fish please, when he has escaped those spider webs.

Escape? I doubt we can fight off whatever made those webs. If indeed it was a spider, its size must be enormous. This pit is a Hellish nightmare.

Spiders you have some power over. Do not fret. I wonder what their eggs might taste like?

“Some power,” yes. My only power over those shambling undead dwarves seemed to be just to run from them. I can see why the miner we’d rescued was near mad with terror. I fear sleep in that I will only dream of that tunnel, miles-long, pressing in upon me at all sides, backing away keeping them from me with my spear yet knowing if I stumble, they would inexorably carry themselves towards me like a tide of death, their flesh slipping around the spear shaft as easily as water.

I told you the others would come and they did.

And I had told you, “Not Bell.” He faces ever-forward and what may have interested him passes as quickly as thought when there is something else to discover ahead.

I suppose. Like a hawk he is. High and aloof. Turrell, then. He is quiet. I like that. He slides smooth and silent as a serpent.

I knew at the time he was sorely wounded and near death, yet I could not reach him. If he still lived, he would not have survived chasing these down.

Murryl. He would not have let wounds prevent him from the chase. Like a badger in a hole he is.

He is fearless, that is true. But his strides are slow and his tenacity fails him from noticing his own wounds.

Decroder would come, I told you. Out of them all, Decroder would come and pounce like his cat. Slash and cut with that long claw of his.

You were right. I didn’t have to destroy them, I just needed to keep them there until Decroder showed up. But at the time I had told you I’d left him in darkness, surrounded by these remorseless, insatiable creatures. If I hadn’t doomed him by running, how could he even see to find me again, and why would he after I had not done the same for him?

While you are wise to not grant your trust to these Townsmen lightly, you perhaps do not credit them enough. Have they not left their homes for this place?

For gold they have.

Yes, but also to aid Gunnolf and Osten who in turn wish to aid the Elk Tribe.

You may be right but it may only be because they throw you scraps.

I admit this works strongly in favoring my opinion. Do you have any scraps, by the way?

Not right now. I am more concerned with trying to stay alive. We should have rested for longer. We’re sorely wounded and I have no healing left I can give to these warriors or protection for myself. Behind us is that wretched slime that undid what I could do for Decroder. It is only Bell and myself that are in reasonable good health and his motivations are still a mystery to me. We cannot go back and that voice taunts us and drives us on and on like a cruel Townsman baits a bear.

We know the magic in which he speaks to us must come from close by.

Yes, he may be hiding through some illusion as he tempts us deeper and deeper. I fear that when he does reveal himself we will be in no condition to defend ourselves.

Focus now. I hear something coming. It is quiet but too large. It scrabbles upward, sounds like dead leaves blowing over the frozen ground. It smells… of blood.

Murryl!

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The Harrowing
Freyja reads the frozen past and a bleak future

30th Eleint 1371 DR Year of the Fading

My hands trace across the backs of the Harrow deck. The cards are sturdy yet worn, the paint on their fronts faded somewhat, but their images – fantastic, beautiful, terrifying – are abundantly clear. But they are clearly a southern artifact, from a dry place, warm, with roofs and many people living side by side. They do not belong in the Icewind Dale. Yet, when the strange dwarven woman showed them to me, after I had bought incense and vials from her, I knew at that moment they were meant to be here and I was meant to hold them.

Fönnreyf and I commune with our patron of the tundra and more mysteries are revealed the more we explore and interact with these outsiders. They have a tendency towards getting injured, Murryl especially. I feel I am close, however, to be able to store my healing spells by creating them in a consumable form in my cauldron. This would be of great use. So while we are in these halls of Stokely Silververstream, having completed the great service to him of clearing his tunnels of his undead kin and his people and my companions heal, I sought some empty vials and incense from their traders.

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HarrowDeck_TheWanderer_small.jpg“The Wanderer,” the old dwarf woman said, as I’d approached to look at her variety of oddments and knickknacks. I assumed she knew of me. I nodded and picked through her bags and boxes and asked how much for what I needed.

“The Wanderer finds treasures in what others discard, he does,” she cackled, her teeth yellowed and ground down or broken, long grey wisps of whiskers around her mouth and nose, her skin deeply wrinkled like a parched riverbed. “The Wanderer collects things, he does. So do I. So do you.”

She stared at my braid, her eyes twinkling, and the various objects I weave into it each morning. I leaned back instinctively, touching it with a protective hand. After being led through the mines by a laughing, taunting Grey Sorcerer who had the ability to speak to us in our dreams, I was uncomfortable with being another stranger’s focus of attention.

What had he said? “I will make you suffer. I will turn the Ten Towns against each other and against you.” Then he fled to the north west, away from the Cairn. Was he behind the rift between the dwarves of the Vale? Stokely wished us to visit his rival, Baerek Hammerstone to find out all we could. We planned to, after seeing Gunnolf and Osten off to the Elk Tribe, then we would follow the Grey Sorcerer to catch him before he could cause more mischief. Was he Akar Kessel? The sorcerer against whom my father and so many of my people fell?

I looked up again and the peddler was holding a card. It depicted a creature half-man and half-horse and he was laden with many odd items and packages. The painting was exquisite. I stared at it. “What is that?”

“That’s The Wanderer, dearie,” she answered. “My old friend. One of fifty-four old friends! This one is you… sometimes, I believe? Yes?”

I admitted I felt drawn to it. Somehow she spoke the truth. “Strange magics near those cards,” yipped Fönnreyf. “Not magic themselves but something I don’t understand.”

“My name is Freyja,” I told the woman, but did not take my eyes from the card. “How are you called?”

“How? How? ‘Crazy bitch!’ sometimes!” she laughed again, her voice betraying a weakness of the lungs that comes to the elderly. “Bitterwind the clan knows me. But my friends call me ”/characters/ginta-bitterwind" class=“wiki-content-link”>Ginta. We’re friends, aren’t we, dearie?"

I met her eyes, then. Once, they twinkled I was sure, the color of the far-off sea. Those eyes had probably seen the length and breadth of the world. But now a pale film covered them and I realized with a start that she must be blind. My heart warmed and I reached and took her hand in mine. “Yes, Ginta. But I will call you Grandmother Ginta.”

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My hands trace the backs of the Harrow deck and, fingers trembling, I draw the first card as Grandmother Ginta taught me and lay it face down in the upper left of the spread soft reindeer skin which had wrapped the cards against the elements. I think of the question, “What awaits us out there?” as I lay eight more cards down in a square trying not to dwell upon the massive blue and white scaled beast we’d seen flying in the storm.

The left column represents the past. For what influences us positively, I flip the uppermost card. It is The Publican. A cyclops pours libations from a magical stein. It is a partial match as it is a positive card representing fellowship and camaraderie. I think of Decroder and Bell, dicing and drinking happily with the dwarves, their hard won coin spent just as freely, shared with children and old alike. I think of silent Turrel, watching them contentedly. I think of Murryl, a dwarf yet an outsider, respectfully seeking knowledge of their holy rites and rituals. There is an ease they have with one another, one I do not share, but I see truly that their companionship has been what has kept us alive so far against the beasts of the mines.

The card of unknown influence is The Lost, a card of emptiness and loss of identity. It is out of alignment and therefore a weaker card in this case but perhaps this still reflects our small group. From what I know of us, we all seek to learn who exactly we are, Gunnolf and Osten as well.

The card negatively influencing the past is The Uprising. Also out of alignment, it represents greater forces at work than we know of. I glance at Fönnreyf knowingly.

The center column is the present and the immediate future. For a positive influence, I draw The Bear, the card of pure strength. It is a partial match so I give it the weight it deserves. I think of the strength of arms the five of us have. Little did I know we would need it later that morning against some stray orcs of the Spit-Tooth clan who had slaughtered the dwarves in the mountainside watchtower near the Daledrop. Though strong, the orcs fell fairly easily to us. I spoke to them in orcish and questioned the one survivor who had said they had left the Spit-Tooth clan because they were too weak and came to kill dwarves. I offered his life but upon seeing he was alone, he said to “finish it.” I cut his throat and wished him a welcome of a warrior to One Eye. Had The Bear portended this encounter? Or perhaps the more literal reading of the gift from Helda Silverstream — an enchanted cloak of polar bear fur to store my life force within — given to me as we’d departed her clanhold.

The unknown influence for the present was The Avalanche and the negative influence was The Desert, both cards out of alignment and having less direction upon the reading but we would be fools to not see the dangers of the tundra itself as ever-present.

Looking to the future, the first card revealed is The Locksmith, out of alignment for the positive, though surely The Locksmith, representing useful tools, will be a positive influence on our future.

But the final two cards: The Inquisitor, for the unknown, and The Paladin for the negative are both appearing in pure opposition to the layout. I realize with dread that despite the luck and good fortune we have read thus far, these two are the strongest cards of the reading.

The Inquisitor represents an immutable truth that can not be swayed. In opposition, it means we head to disaster by going against that truth. The Paladin usually represents standing strong and not backing down but in opposition it means this is foolhardy. The Inquisitor and The Paladin clearly show that something that we believe is wrong and we appear to be facing it head on, blindly striding forward into the teeth of a storm, to our doom. What is this secret we face that we cannot see now and will we be able to learn it soon enough to save ourselves and avert disaster?

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Blood on the Ice
Freyja's Thoughts

30th Eleint 1371 DR Year of the Fading

As we travel to the Daledrop from the guard tower full of slain orc raiders, I think back on final preparations on leaving Stokely Silverstream’s Hall: the purchase of food, of potion reagents, Murryl’s initial attempts to create a claw bracer for Bell, Decroder’s failed attempts at making arrows. Were we really prepared?

Turrel and Murryl spring the bear traps scattered about. Turrel does so to see if they might be salvageable. Murryl does so because I asked him to. He has a kind and protective heart. I can think of no crueler death for an animal than to tread on one out here and die slowly and alone. Strangely, none of the orcs carry the black ice I’d suspected might be the cause of their striking out from their clan. With Bell’s assistance, I heal Decroder’s injured ear.

We say goodbye to Osten Enok and Gunnolf Klasson. I point them in the direction of where I believe the Elk Tribe will be. Decroder gives them some gold. Murryl gives them some hay. I give them each protection from the cold for a day and a night. That should keep them alive enough to meet my former people as equals rather than weak Townsmen. I warn them as well not to mention me. At this, Bell challenges me for an explanation. I do not give it, though he offered to share his tale. Perhaps one day I shall.

We decide that approaching Baerick Hammerstone’s clan to investigate their corruption would be easier if we claim to have come across his men in the tower, slain by orcs. We sever an orc head to bring with us as proof, scant that it is.

Approaching where we believe their entrance to be, we come across another opening, protected by a spiked sapling trap that Turrel disarms. Murryl identifies the runes as a safe place with 60 dwarves. We enter and find it abandoned for a long while. But after some turns, we come to a makeshift barricade manned by five of Hammerstone’s warriors.

They are unfriendly and combative. They insult Murryl’s ancestry upon seeing his gray skin. They care little for any of our reasons for being there and only take an interest when I mention that we carry a small sculpture of black ice. Decroder had been carrying it around secretly. When Bell had examined it back at the tower, he found an emanation of Law from it, but not evil. I detected necromancy. Decroder seemed unhappy with giving it up so Bell carried it for safety.

These dwarves were quite avaricious of it and demanded to see it. After giving it to them, they responded to our request to enter their hold with an attack, believing we are there to steal more of the items from them. Receiving a few wounds in the process, we slew them, and left the orc head there in likely a vain attempt to lead an investigation to the wrong conclusion. We departed the way we’d come, not wishing to hack our way to Hammerstone against Stokely’s wishes.

We then reported to the guards at Stokely’s hall that the Hammerstone faction was past the point of reason. Perhaps, we concluded, taking out the source of this corrupting magical influence, would be the only way to find a cure for the dwarves.

We headed across Bremen’s Run for Termalaine as that was the closest of the Ten Towns in the direction the gray sorcerer had fled. I had traded with them in the past and found the people there to be kinder than the other towns. I hoped this was still the case. I noticed, as the weather picked up and a storm seemed to be forming, that Turrel seemed to have no discomfort from the chill. He claimed that he had been on a ship at sea and had wrecked or washed overboard in a storm. When he next awoke, he was in Lonelywood, one of the Ten Towns with a notorious reputation, and that he no longer felt cold, as if blessed with a permanent protective ward. He had little knowledge of who or how this happened. It seems we all have mysteries in our past.

Murryl was more taciturn than usual. He was still stung by an offhand comment Decroder had made to the Hammerstone dwarves, seeming to join in with their taunts of the duergar to gain their good graces. Murryl, having been enslaved once, did not take kindly to jokes about being sold off again. Decroder did his best to mend the rift, reassuring him that he would never do such a thing.

The storm gathered in ferocity as we traveled and I urged our company to greater speed, to their chagrin. They do not fully comprehend yet what a night on the ice entails. Just past the sun’s apex, I realized we could go no further and must find temporary shelter before continuing. The snow gathered on our shoulders and cloaks by inches and we could not see more than ten feet in front of us. The sky grew dark. Crouching behind a large snowdrift, we stopped to decamp. Then the attack came.

Silently, out of the snow came snarling wolves, surrounding us. With them, strode a beast as tall as Murryl at the shoulder, its fur pure white, its eyes cold blue and intelligent, its maw huge, slavering, and rimed with frost. “Ai! A winter wolf!” cried Decroder. “Use fire if you can!”

Bell threw a bag of food hoping this would satisfy the hunters but they preferred fresh meat. As Murryl, Turrel, and Decroder fought off the smaller pack, I cried out to the animals in their language, “Leave this place lest you all die here.” Then, as Turrel and Decroder dove out of the way, I let forth a gout of magical flame towards their leader.

Merely singed, the winter wolf snarled, “The Ice Bitch demands blood on the snow!” and launched itself towards me, shrugging off wounds from my spear and Turrel’s hand axe. It bit me almost in half and lifted me up out of the snow to shake me and slam me to the ground. I felt a cold unconsciousness slip over my eyes but then felt a rush of warmth as Burgthor and Helda’s gift restored my health. Sorely wounded, I crawled away from a snapping wolf and into the snowdrift and tried to put the winter wolf to sleep. Alas, its mind was stronger than that of the dwarves we’d faced. “She rules this place. She comes to claim it again.”

“The Ice Bitch?” I asked Fönnreyf. Irritably, he reminded me of Auril, the Frostmaiden, the Queen of Winter who wished to extinguish all life and warmth in the north.

Seeing my wounded state, Murryl abandoned the wolf he’d battled on the periphery to take on the winter wolf with Decroder. “Beware its breath!” cried the elven ranger and Turrel wisely got to crossbow range. It was only now that I noticed how wounded Murryl was. He had taken some blows from the dwarves and had not fully healed from the encounter with the orcs. A vicious fresh bite wound flowed from his forearm. Despite this, he stepped right up to the maw of the winter wolf, all 450 pounds of evil muscle of it. The winter wolf inhaled, the air crystalizing around its muzzle to deadly blue, and then it exhaled.

Decroder, behind and to the left of Murryl managed to dodge part of the breath. Still, he fell to the ground, losing consciousness. Murryl took the brunt of it. His grey skin turned a sickly bluish-white. His limbs froze in mid-motion. His armor and shield became coated in ice as if long abandoned on the tundra. His eyes that had held dreams of the surface world, his lungs that gave voice to his prayers and honor to the dwarven gods, his hands that longed to craft and create, and the heart that cared for others more than himself, froze and died there. The Ice Bitch had her sacrifice, indeed.

“No!” cried Bell, seeing his friend fall. He tore out the throat of the wolf that attacked him with his claw bracer.

“No!” cried Turrel, seeing that only he and Bell and my barely-surviving self still stood against the beast and two remaining wolves.

“No,” said Decroder in a strange tone, surprisingly gaining his feet once again. As he’d fallen against the ice, cushioned by a fallen wolf, he’d had a vision. A tower all of black ice beckoned him. He flexed a fist and felt the black ice figurine, the statue we had left with Hammerstone’s dwarves, the statue he was sure he’d left behind, shatter in his hand. The remaining life from the wolf flowed into him and gave him a renewed, unnatural strength. He stood again, greatsword in hand, looking at his dead dwarven companion who only hours earlier he’d apologized to and promised we would never harm.

The winter wolf bounded towards Bell but we fought with a renewed vigor, one of vengeance. Finding itself surrounded by the four of us, my braid alive with arcane power, the winter wolf turned to escape only to be struck down by Turrel’s crossbow bayonet. “Suck my half-elf dick,” he said as the great beast collapsed, my spear cutting its last breaths.

The other two wolves turned and ran back into the storm, howling the loss of their pack leader. Auril’s displeasure burst from the sky in a flash of lightning as the snow’s fury increased.

That show of anger, I thought, would be nothing compared to what I planned. Ignoring Fönnreyf’s warning look, I strode toward Auril’s fallen champion’s corpse, my braid swirling and snapping far above my head like a striking serpent, and I drew my sickle. A sacrifice would be made this day.

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