Journal entry: 13th of Sevenmonth, 326 A.F.
As I write here, my ink gradually thawing the more time I spend in this evil – but warm- hall, I have to wonder if perhaps this valiant troop may have gotten in over our heads this time? In prayer to Pelor for protection and guidance, I suddenly felt compelled to record our progress since our victory over the Iron Circle.
Victory, yes, but not complete, as we learned. As we gathered in a local public house in Harken proper with our new friend Moose the Minotaur, we were…informed…that Nazin Redthorn was (as we suspected) not the true power behind the Circle’s nefarious doings. A tiefling warrior, calling himself Lividius, strode through the door of the inn, bearing a message from the Circle and the head of our dear friend Dar Greammoth.
Seeing the grim trophy this beast had claimed, I did not bother to listen to the whole of what he had to say. As one, we stood and routed the intruder, and as he attempted to flee he was felled by one of Master Krushemdead’s javelins.
We would show him no more mercy than he showed the leader of the resistance.
After we saw to the return of Master Greammoth’s remains and I had performed the rites required to leave him in repose until we might have him restored to life, we set out in the direction of Fallcrest, having found a letter directing the felled tiefling warrior to return there after dispatching us.
It seemed, to me at least, that this ‘Lord Vhennik’ may have had an idea that his servant had failed him. No surprise, really. There are countless ways that he could have known we had dispatched Lividius. In any case, we were attacked en route to Fallcrest by a pack of wolves and dire wolves. Strange that they would be driven to attack us, I felt. The creatures acted quite out of sorts, in fact, almost as though they were being directed to attack us.
After overcoming these creatures, we reached the gates of Fallcrest. Instantly we realized that something was amiss when we noted the gates wide open and no guard posted. No lamps burned in the windows and no smoke rose from the chimneys of the houses in town, and in the dim light we could see humanoid shapes, and some larger ones, shambling aimlessly through the gloom. I have dealt with my fair share of undead before, and their behavior was unmistakable.
Having left the minotaur outside to guard the caravan, the dwarves and I proceeded as quietly as we were able, hoping to find a living soul who could tell us what was happening.
A snapped twig underfoot dashed the hopes of avoiding the undead. Fortunately, the radiant countenance of Pelor does not smile kindly upon the unholy reanimations of the damned. As we crushed undead left and right, a shadowy figure appeared from nowhere and lent us aid. Fighting for our lives as we were, I simply thanked Pelor for sending this brave soul to us, content to discover their identity after we crushed the shambling zombies.
Imagine my surprise when the sorcerer pulled his hood back to reveal that it was none other than Vorlis Darksteel, our departed companion back from the dead. He spoke to us of being raised and ensouled by an ancient red dragon, who’s reasons for bringing Vorlis back from the edge of the abyss would remain a mystery, and of being sent to Fallcrest by this creature.
Vorlis lead us through the town, where I noted the temperature had dropped sharply. Snow drifted in on an icy breeze – in the middle of summer!! We made our way to the lower section of Fallcrest, where the citizens had set up a camp and perimeter they could defend from the undead. Three feet of snow had fallen on most of Fallcrest by this time, collapsing roofs and burying livestock, and the weather gave no indication of changing. We set about the outskirts, cutting down zombies in groups of two or three, and attempting to spell the citizens who had been guarding their makeshift wall in the cold for so long.
On the chill wind, low at first but growing louder all the while, a rasping chant floated along overhead. Dawn had just begun to light the sky when we discovered the source – a longboat in the sky, sails tattered and crew oddly gaunt. They circled the encampment once, twice, then landed with a crash directly in the center. The crew, now clearly undead and evil, disembarked and began wholesale slaughter of the poor townsfolk, tearing at their clothing and ransacking tents.
The alarm was sounded, and what was available out of the local militia rushed in to protect the fleeing citizens. Lead by a handful of local heroes, they provided a flank to the undead force, allowing us a chance to strike the enemy.
Even now the madness of fighting these barbaric warriors seems overwhelming. After what seemed an endless battle, with numerous casualties, we and the townsfolk were able to, by the Power of Pelor, send these creatures back to the nine hells where they came from.
I cautiously approached the ship’s prow and as I did the wooden white dragon figure head growled and spoke to me, demanding to know if I possessed the scepter of the Winter King. I did not, so I felt it best not to answer.
Meanwhile, Lucan’s sharp eyes had spotted a small figure making his way out of the refugee camp, clutching something close to him. As I turned to leave the talking ship, Lucan dragged the unfortunate halfling up to the rest of us by the hair in one hand, holding an icy rod wrapped in burlap in the other. “Something about a scepter?” the elf asked. “This one might know something about it.”
The halfling, named Marco Lancet, quickly and nervously related the story to us of his discovery of the scepter. He had been a slave in a mine deep in the Caringorn Peaks of the Stonemarch, where he had escaped and fled in fear for his life into a blizzard. Half frozen, he stumbled upon a cave at the base of a pillar of ice and skulls. He sought shelter in this cairn, finding the fear of the unknown to be less that the bite of the cold. Deeper and deeper he had gone, until finally he discovered a throne room of sorts, where an icy skeletal figure sat. The scepter rested gently in it’s right hand. By his natural curiosity he picked the scepter up. Slowly, Marco felt suffused with warmth, starting with his hands which held the scepter. Holding the scepter seemed to keep the cold at bay. He said that he figured it was no use to the frozen figure on the throne, but it could potentially save his life. Nodding in morbid thanks, he left the cairn.
The scepter had made travel through the Caringorn peaks survivable for Marco, if not pleasant. He listened to the frustrated sound of his pursuers from the mines, who finally gave up after a time. After all, how could a halfling survive out in the blizzard on his own? Chuckling to himself, Marco had headed South East, down the contour of the mountains. He slept on the bare snow without care, warmed as he was by the scepter.
Eventually he made his way to Fallcrest, where he felt he could start anew…that is, until the snow came. Marco related that once he saw the ship he knew the undead warriors were looking for him and the scepter, he could feel it. Which, of course, compelled him to leave hurriedly once they had been dealt with. As Marco related his tale to us, our activity caught the attention of more than one resident of Fallcrest, and they had begun to gather close by.
I and the others again approached the ship, and again the wooden figurehead came alive, asking if we held the scepter and staring with it’s painted eyes. “Yes, we do,” I answered, bracing myself for a possible attack. None came however, and to our surprise the dragon figurehead seemed to sigh as it answered.
“Then you may board.”
After some hesitation, we climbed up the gang plank and onto the deck of the boat, on guard at all times for more of the frozen skeletal warriors who had caused such havoc before. One of the locals we had met in the fight, a towering man who called himself ‘Bonesnapper’ offered his greatsword in aid, which we readily accepted.
“You understand that we…really have no idea what’s going to happen once we get on this boat, don’t you?” I said to him as we began to board.
“Whatever it is,” he replied grimly. “It can’t be that bad compared to some of the things I have seen. I fought for the militia, true, but I am my own man and I would see where this boat will go.”
Lucan was the last to come up, as he still had hold of the halfling. “I…I really think I should be going,” said Marco. “I’m really not going to be of much use to you; I’m no fighter…I’ll just stay behind, you can take it back without me.” As he turned, and Lucan let go of him, he rounded the ship’s bow and stopped in his tracks as the cold gaze of the angry crowd met his eyes, more chill than the snow and ice that clung to their meager belongings. They were all focused on him.
“On second thought,” he muttered as he rushed back up onto the deck. “You gentlemen look like you could use my help.”
On board, the rest of us were busily trying to figure out what command would raise the ship into the air. The figurehead was once again a plain, wooden dragon, and try as we might, we could not get us to speak further or instruct us. “It appears to be a simple, magical automation,” Vorlis said to me. “It’s not intelligent, probably just waiting for a specific pass phrase or action.”
Meanwhile, Gimil Irongut had taken a seat at one of the oars, holding it in his hands and plying it idly. As Lucan had my attention in looking for a receptacle where the scepter could be placed, as a sort of control mechanism, I heard the dwarf call from behind me.
“Lads, I think ye better come an’ take a look at this,” he called as he rowed. “I’m gettin’ some resistance here that don’t make much sense.” Indeed, as he pulled, he seemed to be straining, though the oar’s paddle was simply suspended in the air. Quickly the rest of us took seats and grasped the oars, sending Marco Lancet to the tiller. As we tested
the oars out, the ship lurched forward.
“That’s more like it,” the figurehead boomed. “Now set the oars and put your backs into it, curs! We set sail for the cairn of the Winter King!!” And with that, the ship launched into the air as if shot from a bow.
The trip was a horrible experience by all accounts. We soon discovered, quite by accident and nearly causing the death of us all, that the boat required four people to row at a time. At times when all but one of us were thrown from our benches, the boat careened groundward and we barely managed to avoid being smashed to bits on the rocky foothills of
the peaks. “Row, fools!” the boat berated us. “The Winter King can always send another ship!!”
“Perhaps the next one will be able to steer better than you do!” Lucan retorted, but the figurehead paid him no mind and sped onward through the gale.
Somehow, in spite of the crashing storm, we came to rest with a snowy crunch in the shadow of a tower of ice. Skulls peered out through the frozen pillar, their jaws agape and sightless eyes staring out – directly at us it seemed.
“I…c-c-can’t believe I’m back here,” said Marco. “I thought I would never see this place again in my life…maybe I’m dead!”
Determined to end the curse that had come down on Fallcrest, we pushed forward to the mouth of a small cave at the base of the cairn under the pillar of skulls, dragging the halfling with us. Out of the wind, the tunnel was not nearly as cold as the mountainside had been. We traveled down a corridor to a set of double-doors at the end. I turned to Marco and jerked a thumb at the door, raising an eyebrow in question. He looked confused and had not yet stopped muttering to himself under his breath. “…No, this can’t be the same place. There were no doors here…no…this is all wrong…”
I turned to Gimil and shrugged. He shrugged in return and strode boldly up to the double iron doors and gave the handle a good, hard tug. The door hardly moved, making a crunching, creaking noise up in it’s hinges. He turned back to us, stunned at the apparent bulk of the door.
Kron grumbled to himself and handed Gimil his weapon for a moment. “Hold my maul and watch this,” he grunted, taking the door handle in his hands.
“Famous last words, lad,” said Gimil, taking a step back.
Kron took a couple deep breaths and heaved forward. As he did, the entire door fell inward, it’s hinges pulled from the wall, and landed with a mighty boom in the room beyond. Surprisingly this room was lit and warm…and far from empty. As we began to push our way into the room, a direwolf snarled and stalked forward. A gnome (I’m not sure if it was male or female and I don’t feel inclined to check now) let out a cry of alarm and a large man stood on the fully laden banquet table and bellowed.
“I am Bortek!” said he, leveling his greataxe at us. “And you are about to die!”
Master Krushemdead eagerly pulled the maul from his comrade’s hand and charged to meet the foe head on. As I followed Lucan in and attempted to protect the dwarf’s flank from the huge canine, I noticed another dire wolf closing in from the other side of the room. I called out sharply to my companions to warn them of the other creature as I caught the jaws of the first one on my shield. “Get the other door open!” I shouted.
Vorlis must have heard me, because one moment I heard his footfalls running down the corridor and the next I saw the door crash open, directly into the face of the second dire wolf, which staggered back, shaking off the blow. I struck out at the first dire wolf, calling upon Pelor and praying for healing for Kron, who had been driven back by the ferocity of Bortek the barbarian. My lord Pelor readily obliged, and Master Krushemdead’s wounds were mended as he struck back at Bortek.
Meanwhile the gnome had gone unchallenged, and had been granted the opportunity to prepare a spell, which hit us all full force. As I began to shake off the dancing lights in my head after the impact, I shouted to Bonesnapper. “Hurry, my friend. Get the caster!”
Boris Bonesnapper needed no further persuasion. With a roar, he charged past Bortek and vaulted the table, slashing the gnome so severely that I thought it was dead at first. Lucan attempted to skirt the table and stab the caster in the back, but the gnome dodged the shortsword by some miracle of fortune and attempted to flee. Boris had no intention of letting the creature leave and took it’s head before it was beyond reach of his sword.
By this time Master Krushemdead had knocked Bortek to his knees, and I had weakened the first dire wolf to the point that it had barely the strength to stand, let alone fight. With Gimil’s assistance, Vorlis had turned the second wolf into an unrecognizable burning mass.
After dealing the final blow to the barbarian, Master Krushemdead turned to the dire wolf. To our surprise, rather than killing the animal, the dwarf hoisted himself onto the back of the beast, gripping it by the scruff of the neck. At first, the dire wolf weakly protested with a choking snarl. Kron hefted his maul within view of the wolf.
“STAY”, he bellowed. Cowed, the creature did as it was told.
With the battle ended, we took in our surroundings. The room was decked out for a feast, the table laden with all manor of delicious food and drink, still warm from wherever it had been prepared. What’s more, a row of comfortable looking beds lined the East wall.
“This isn’t right,” I muttered to the others. “I’m not touching the food”.
“Bah, yer paranoid, lad,” Gimil chided. “I’ve never let good food go to waste and I don’t intend to start now”. He stood at the table and hoisted a ham hock to his mouth, biting in with relish.
“Suit yourself,” I said to him. I felt something was very wrong with the room, and went to one of the doors and listened. “Lucan, can you bring the halfling inside? Tell him the danger has passed…somewhat.”
The elf obliged. Try as I might, I couldn’t make out any sound or light coming from the other side of the door. Though we seemed in no immediate danger, there was still that dark foreboding in the back of my mind. It was only then that I noticed the smell of the room had changed. What had once been an inviting smell of warm food had become…
“Gimil STOP!” I called out. Too late. Gimil pulled a face at the sudden change of flavor and pulled back what had once been ham from his mouth, swallowing in the process. Instead of the rich cut of meat he had been holding before, he held the fetid, decomposing haunch of a human. He stared at his teeth marks in the flesh for a moment before dropping the limb back on the table.
“It’s cursed!” Kron shouted, pointing in disbelief at the table, now strewn with humanoid remains and cups and decanters filled with blood. “Look…something’s written in the blood”. As sure as the sunrise, there were unmistakeable words in blood down the center of the table.
SO YOU THINK YOU ARE GUESTS IN MY HOUSE? – it spelled out.
“Then the beds…” Vorlis began.
“Likely cursed as well,” I finished his thoughts. “Come, let us move the remains into the antechamber where the dire wolves were being kept. I don’t know what else these parts might change into and I don’t wish to find out. Gimil, how are you feeling?”
Gimil looked gaunt and had turned a pale shade of grayish-green. “Well…I mean…” he shuffled, sitting down on the bench. “It was human…so technically it’s not cannibalism…”
“None the less,” Kron admonished. “Yer still a sick man.”
At this point Lucan re-entered the room, bringing Marco with him. The poor halfling looked at the bodies on the floor and the carnage on the table and let out a wail. “Aaaauuuggghh!!! You said it was safe in here!! I should have known! It’s not safe! Aaaahhh! That was a halfling!! So was that!! Aaaaahhh!!!” Lucan clamped a hand over Marco’s mouth, who continued to shriek and point at the table.
So, here we are now. We have barricaded the doors and cleansed the room some. The beds were used as a blockade and none of us have dared to touch the blankets, pillows and mattresses that initially looked so inviting, opting instead to camp on the stone floor in the center of the room.
Gimil has recovered some with some rest, and Master Krushemdead’s new steed was healed of it’s wounds (nearly taking my hand in the process). Though we seem safe from attack for the time being, Pelor be praised, I cannot help but feel that we are going on to our slaughter. While I have had some rest, I have slept little, as every tiny sound jars me awake. I feel these could be our final hours. While we aim to return the scepter to it’s rightful owner, that same owner may not feel much gratitude.
Thus, I record our progress. Should someone find this journal, know that the Irongut Brigade was preparing to take the scepter of ice back to the entity known as the Winter King. Know also that, if this journal be found without owner, he has bested us.
Blessed Be The Light,
-Zandahar, Shining Servant of Pelor and Defender of Harkenwold