Byzantium on the Shannon I


First Post
Episode 13: It's My Party and I'll Snub Who I Want To...

Time Elapsed: 6/21 - 6/24/495 A.I.


The next few weeks found the group largely at loose ends. Nicasia had received an invitation to an elaborate costume ball to be held at the private estate of Baroness Vivian Avorina Baras, to whom she had been introduced by Brec, the Baron of Tavia’s personal Bard. But the event itself was still a ways off, and the party were happy for some days of relaxation for the most part. Everyone had business of their own to attend to; Martaine was busy with the orphanage, Theordorus at the College, and Aoelif discovered that she had developed an interest in conducting business of a somewhat more intimate nature with Ingolf.

Ingolf contacted Brec and gave her a brief report of what had transpired in Rolgulka. He had hoped the bard would have some insights into Vihar and Zlata, particularly into their relationship. Brec was able to tell him that seemingly all Rolgulkan males of noble stature have a magic-wielding consort or concubine, and that it seemed almost as if they were all drawn from the ranks of some organization of official consorts. But as to the particulars of Vihar and Zlata’s relationship, she had little insight.

When the day of the Baroness’ costume ball arrived, the characters were an odd looking bunch. In a bit of role-reversal, Martaine dressed as a fool and Ingolf a monk. Harkening back to her experience with Crossbyr the Druid, Aoelif opted to costume herself as a hound. Theodorus made himself up as a Knight and Nicasia draped herself in flowing crimson, orange and yellow silks and titled herself a Burning Flame. Zaccara, somewhat at a loss for inspiration, had crafted the most hideous mask he could manage and went as – himself. A rented carriage arrived shortly after dark and whisked the lot of them off to the Baroness’ estate.

Most if not all of the Tavian nobility were present, including Ducalion, the Secretary of Luminaries, who was dressed as a giant lantern, and Magistrate Cyrus, with who the group were already acquainted and who none of them were surprised to see camped out near the alcohol. Sir Eudamon, Baron Flavius’ boorish brother-in-law, was also in attendance, dressed rather outlandishly as Apollo, the Sylan god of the sun. Baron Flavius, the ruler of the city, and his wife Gala were conspicuously absent, however Earl Iustus Avouris Pleustes, the man the Baron replaced, was present. The Earl was dressed as a sort of apple tree, and surrounded at all times by any number of sycophantic supporters. He made Theodorus quite uncomfortable by inquiring after the exact circumstances of his being named as a Friend of House Admenes – Baron Flavius’ household. Theodorus was forced to assert repeatedly that his service to the Baron had been inspired only by his desire to serve the Empire, not by any particular love or enmity for either the Baron’s or the Earl’s households.

As the evening wore on, the guests all became increasingly high spirited and occasionally indiscreet. Sir Eudamon made numerous unwelcome advances on many of the noble ladies present, and also encouraged everyone he spoke with to be sure to let him know about the “real” party should they stumble onto it. Eudamon was convinced that somewhere on the estate were being offered entertainments of a more sophisticated nature, but that this second party was only open to a chosen few. Why he hadn’t been properly informed of this by the hostess was a mystery only to Eudamon. Magistrate Cyrus made numerous attempts to breach the bulwark of Baroness Vivian’s discretion, but found himself rebuffed at every turn. Eudamon’s commiseration didn’t seem to assuage the Magistrate’s bruised ego in the slightest.

Nicasia and Theodorus made the most of the event, meeting and mingling with the various well-heeled members of the Tavian aristocracy. Ingolf was more or less bored by the hob-knobbing, but his displeasure at the foolish subtleties of human politics was more than compensated for by the excellent quality of wine available, a resource which Aoelif also took advantage of. Martaine was his normal boring tee-totaling self, though he did refrain from spoiling anyone else’s good time. Ingolf amused himself for a while by introducing Theordorus to everyone present as “the well known elven bard Ingolf Egilson” and himself as “Theodorus, wizard without compare” but even this game got old quickly, particularly with Theodorus contradicting him at every turn.

Around midnight, things took a turn for the bizarre. Theodorus opted to take some air in the Baroness’ immaculate garden. He was astonished to feel the tell-tale brush of groping fingers, followed by the sudden lightening of his purse, as he pushed his way past a seemingly tipsy member of the Baroness’ household guard. Without a moment’s hesitation the young mage attempted to enchant the cutpurse, but the very young-looking guard shook off the effects and foolishly tried to buy Theodorus silence. This served only to enrage him, and the cries of “thief!” soon echoed across the courtyard.

Zaccara and Aoelif responded at once, as did a number of the Baroness’ guards. The would-be thief vaulted to the roof in an attempt to make an escape, but Zaccara and Aoelif were hot on his heels and in no time he was on the ground without the garden wall, bruised and battered. Moments later, he was on the ground inside the walls, when Zaccara quickly used his unseelie powers to grow to his full 9’ height and hurl the young man back over the wall. By lucky chance, the unconscious lad landed directly atop Sir Eudamon, who quickly attempted to claim credit for stopping the would-be thief.

Everyone was quite impressed with Zaccara’s feat of strength, although thanks to the intervening garden wall none had seen his sudden transformation from six feet tall to nine and back. Baroness Vivian had the young thief – a cimbri, as it turned out – quickly removed and locked in her cellar for later inquiry. Eudamon tried as best he could to convince those who hadn’t seen what truly transpired that he had been responsible for the cimbri lad’s capture. Many guests discovered that their own purses had gone missing, and a great deal of coinage was recovered from the unconscious form of the cimbri before he was hauled off.

After a bit, things quieted down somewhat, and most of the party goers settled back into their previous routines, though Zaccara’s prodigious strength was a topic of conversation for quite some time. Eudamon, after being rebuffed by all of the noble women present, turned his attentions to Aoelif with different results. Perhaps from ignorance of his intentions, or else from simple mischievousness, she agreed to accompany him to his “private hunting lodge” nearby. Even when informed of his likely plans by Theodorus she persisted, leading Ingolf to speculate that she indeed intended to sleep with him. Nicasia, however, was fearful for her friends reputation, and perhaps not realizing that such things were more or less inconsequential to the fae she decided at the last moment to accompany her as a sort of chaperone. The three of them departed together along with Eudamon’s entourage, much to the surprise of several of the nobles present.

They returned less than an hour later, seemingly unmolested but somewhat footsore. This unexpected turn of events was rather all that anyone was talking about for the rest of the evening, and many theories as to what had transpired were put forth. No one failed to notice that the boorish Eudamon had not returned with them, but neither was anyone particularly sorry about this. Later, the two women related what had transpired.

Eudamon, true to form, began pressing his attentions on Aoelif as soon as the carriage was underway. What Aoelif’s exact plans when she agreed to accompany Eudamon were only she could say for sure, but she had no intention of satisfying his desires right then and there. When she protested, he simply became more insistent, and eventually Nicasia was forced to take drastic action and coshed him over the head. Though the blow was not sufficient to knock him out, it was more than enough to derail him from his course of action. Eudamon, indignant at being so treated, turned the two women out several miles away and drove on; they were forced to walk back. This unsavory turn of events put rather a damper on everyone’s spirits, and the group elected to depart not long after. Nicasia planned to go directly to the Baron himself to complain about Eudamon’s behavior; although the Baron has no particular love for his brother-in-law, what his exact reaction to this turn of events is likely to be remains anyone’s guess.

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First Post
Episode 14: The Plot Thicks

Time Elapsed: 6/24 - 7/04/495 A.I.


Part I

The days and weeks following the Baroness’ party were distressing ones for Nicasia. Without a doubt, the turn of events that concluded Vivian’s gathering were the principle topic of the gossips among the nobility, which of course means all of them. Theodorus was stressed at being linked in the Earl’s opinion with House Dukas. The most telling revelation along those lines, however, came to Aoelif.

The young Fianna burst into the common room of the Bad Pony, where Ingolf and Theodorus sat conversing over cold pressed duck and barley broth, with a sheaf of writing papers in one hand and an ink-smeared quill in the other. She asked Theodorus, rather excitedly, which of his numerous names represented his family. He patiently explained that his family name was Alexius, and that the Alexius family was part of the larger clan known as House Commenos. She then wanted to know what family Baroness Gala was from; Theodorus replied that as her full name was Gala Angelina Admenes, she was a member of the Angelos clan, although she had taken the family name of her husband, Baron Flavius.

At this news, Aoelif became increasingly upset and not particularly coherent. After the application of a little wine, she calmed herself down enough to explain that she had a grudge against the Angelos clan. Years ago, she had been courted by a young Alfar ranger named Rowan Hralfson, who was in service to a Alfar lord named Drummundson, an elf king who her father had attempted to marry her to at one point. Rowan had been sent to human lands with a message from King Drummondson to a human noble with whom the elf had numerous business dealings. The message, apparently, did not go over well with the Iconian nobleman, because all he sent back by way of reply was Rowan’s head. That human was Maxentius Angelos Sphrantzes. It was only just now, in the course of writing a letter to the leader of her Fianna band, that she had made the connection between the Baroness’ name and that of the man who murdered her first love.

Theodorus went into full-out damage control mode at once, apparently fearing that the Alfar warrior was about to storm the gate of the Baron’s keep. Alas, his approach was hopelessly colored by his human experience, and he attempted to convince the Fianna that she had no real reason to be upset with this human Maxentius, as it was all apparently just a business deal gone wrong, and at any rate, her wrath couldn’t logically extend to other members of his family.. This did little to assuage Aoelif’s anger. She and Ingolf made an attempt to explain the Alfar notions of justice and blood feuds, but Theodorus seemed unwilling or unable to understand why they applied tot his situation.

Finally, Aoelif managed to convince him that she didn’t intend to cut off anyone’s head on the spot. When they learned the particulars of the situation, Nicasia and Martaine agreed to use the resources at their disposal to help Aoelif ascertain the exact relationship between Gala and Maxentius, though this would take some time.

A few days later, Ingolf received a mysterious letter from a Cimbri messenger who had met a strange old man on the road to Tavia. Ingolf asked Aoelif to walk with him that night in the garden adjacent to the Partridge. While there, Ingolf revealed certain things about his past that the Fianna was previously unaware of. He told her how he had been raised by Druids after his parents were accused of conspiring with the giants and also why he fled. He also told her that he had met a druid named Skallagrim who had nursed him back to health after he was attacked on the road to Tavia. It was this druid who he expected to meet in the garden that evening.

True to form, at midnight Skallagrim appeared, bursting forth from the bole of a great oak in the garden. Ingolf introduced Aoelif and indicated that she was trustworthy. Skallagrim then launched into this tale:

“You know of course that your parents were banished by a council of Druids. Banished for their crimes against Faerie in conspiring with the fire giant Ingemur to murder the nobleman Riodhr and claim his lands. The council decreed that they should be bound and left at the borders of Ingemur’s lands for him to do with as he pleased. What you do not know is that I was on that council of Druids.”

Ingolf bristled, but before he could speak the Druid continued.

“I have come to believe that we were wrong. The evidence presented by your parent’s accuser, the dark elf [a dwarf, or dekkalfar - GM] bard Thrym, was quite strong. He claimed to have overheard your parents discussing Riodhr’s magic folding boat – an item he was never without. Thrym lead a member of the druidic order to the secret cache of loot in your father’s keep, and the boat – which surely was in Riodhr’s possession when he was slain – was found therein. Thrym was the court bard of a mighty dwarven king, and his evidence was very damning. However, I have since learned – certain things – that lead me to believe we should not have trusted him.”

Ingolf asked if Skallagrim knew Thrym’s whereabouts, and was told that he did not. He also declined to name the dark elf lord the bard served, who at any rate was beyond the reach of Ingolf’s vengeance – at least for the moment. The Druid went on with his story:

“I know the desire for revenge burns fiercely, but hear me out. There is more to the tale. When you were still very young, your older brothers both swore an oath to infiltrate Ingemur’s castle and rescue your parents. Your eldest brother Olyn was slain; Halvor survived but with horrible burns. He renounced his claims and took up the life of a Viking – a raider. He is the person you need to find first, if you want to see justice done. And therein lies the problem.”

Halvor, Skallagrim explained, had apparently run afoul of a powerful druid and been cursed for his trouble – transformed into a great white bear. He had since roamed the ice floes of the far north in bear form, for so long now that the truth of his Alfar heritage was half forgotten. Ingolf, Skallagrim claimed, would first need to find his brother and restore his mind if he wanted to learn the truth. As to Thrym, the bard was aged and frail, but if he could be found before he died, it was possible that he might have additional information. Finally, Skallagrim produced the last missing piece of the puzzle – the magic boat that had belonged to Riodhr. With this, he said, the journey to the frozen north and back would be far easier. How he had come to possess it he would not say just yet.

Skallagrim indicated that the task of finding, capturing and healing Ingolf’s brother Halvor would be difficult and long. He advised an overland route through Rolgulka to the Dan river, which flowed north into the great polar sea. He would be able to provide some magical assistance in locating the transformed Alfar, and extensive aid in restoring his mind in the event he could be recovered. But in the journey and hunt itself, he advised Ingolf to seek trustworthy companions.

Skallagrim departed after agreeing to meet with Ingolf at his home in two weeks time. Ingolf relayed his tale to Zaccara, Martaine and the others, and although it was painful for him to divulge his family’s shame, none but Aoelif really seemed to understand how grave a crime his parents had been accused of. Zaccara was thrilled by the idea of a sea-voyage, Nicasia welcomed a chance to be out of sight for a while given recent events, and Martaine was eager for a chance to see more of Rolgulka. Only Theordorus was reluctant, but in the end his desire to fully see the threads of such a long-reaching and complex intrigue unraveled got the best of him. Ingolf half suspected that the young mage held secret admiration for the machinations that had brought his family down.

The group debated the best course of action for some time and many plans were laid. Finally, someone pointed out that the entire group were owed a dinner at the Partridge, Tavia’s best inn, and it was decided that this would be an ideal send off. What awaited them there would prove to relieve any misgivings that Theodorus or Nicasia might have had about the need for a protracted country vacation . . .

Part II

A few days before their scheduled departure from Tavia for the frozen north, the group assembled at the Partridge, where they enjoyed a sumptuous meal at the expense of the Baron, a reward for their long-ago victory in the tournament at the Feast of Saint Petronella. The inn was quiet, with most of the common room turned over to the party, who sat in a corner next to two large open French windows. The best seats in the house, they'd been assured, and the spot did offer an excellent view of the civic park next to the inn as well as the wide, paved streets of Tavia's noble quarter.

The mood was light, the conversation turning mostly on the expected adventures that lie ahead. Though most of the group had come to regard Tavia as "home" it was clear that the fianna Aoelif longed for the wilderness again already, whereas Zaccara was eager to feel the rolling deck of a ship beneath his feet once more. Dinner was comprised of roasted venison, stewed onions and gravy, white bread with butter and cream and fresh goat cheese encrusted with pistachios, a specialty of the house. There was no shortage of beer and wine either, and the barmaid hovered nearby most of the meal keeping everyone's goblet full.

So it was that Aoelif, uninterested in the mercantile plans for the trip through Rolgulka being laid by Nicasia and Martaine, noticed the barmaid slip something into Nicasia' wine, some liquid that, while it came from a wine bottle, was clearly not wine. Unnoticed by the rest of the group, as soon as she'd poured the draught of whatever it was, the barmaid, rather than return to the kitchen, slipped quietly out the open doorway into the park. Aoelif was perplexed by these actions and in the heat of the moment seemed to have missed the implications, for rather than shout a warning, she leapt to her feet and gave chase to the barmaid - without saying a word.

For their part, most of the group were used to Aoelif's inexplicable behavior by this point and thought little of it. Only Martaine seemed alarmed by her sudden departure and stepped outside to determine what the matter was. At that moment, from one of the only other occupied tables in the room, a young rakish looking fellow rose and offered a toast to the emperor. The remaining members of the group dutifully raised there glasses, only to have Aoelif suddenly reappear, crying "Nicasia - don't!" - too late.

Nicasia drank her altered wine in toast to the emperor even as Aoelif cried that someone had poisoned her drink. Martaine was outside giving chase to the "barmaid" who had swallowed a potion of her own and vanished. Nicasia, however, seemed to suffer no ill effects at all - in deed, she appeared in the very bloom of health - and quite eager, suddenly, to find herself in the arms of the rake who'd offered the toast. So eager that it was nearly all Aoelif could do to restrain her.

For his part, the patriotic young man was more than happy to receive Nicasia's attentions. Ingolf and Zaccara both protested that Nicasia was not in her right mind, having been enchanted somehow, at which point the young man made a comment about understanding that "Such behavior is quite normal for her, or at least it was not a few nights ago at Vivian's party."

Aoelif and Theordorus attempted to restrain Nicasia, Martaine had not yet reappeared, and Zaccara seemed honestly perplexed by these events. Ingolf, however, was suddenly enraged, and his anger was stoked further by the impertinence of the would-be character-assassin's comments. In short order, he accused Nicasia of being a wanton, a prostitute, and a witch. The fact that she, all this time, was protesting loudly for Aoelif and Theordorus to unhand her so that she might join her "love" did little to reinforce Ingolf's assertion that she was none of these things. Theodorus finally brought about an end to that behavior by calling up a newly-learned incantation designed to destroy enchantments, whereupon Nicasia collapsed in horror at what had just transpired.

Although not known for his mastery of the blade, Ingolf demanded that Nicasia's accuser either recant at once or meet him outside the building, and in a split second the rake's sword was in his hand. Ingolf spoke in a low voice, and told him that he had no intention of granting a fair fight to a common thug. "Apologize or the only way you'll be leaving this inn is feet first. You'll notice that you are rather heavily outnumbered." With that Ingolf nodded towards Zaccara and Aoelif, both of whom by this point had fire in there eyes.

The young man made a low bow with a flourish of his cloak, looked Ingolf in the eye briefly and said only "We will meet again" and with that he sprang out the door. Rather than give chase, Ingolf turned his attention to Nicasia, who was beginning to understand what must have happened. Martaine returned a few moments later, to report that the man's accomplice had fled invisibly at first, but that he had been able to dispel that effect. The accomplice had still managed to escape, however his disguise (which he was in the process of removing when his invisibility was dispelled) remain on the roof of the inn.

The innkeeper was distraught, and offer many an apology. He also summoned the Magistrate at once, which for that part of town was Cyrus, well known to the group. Cyrus took a detailed report of the events from the group, and was able to determine a few salient facts. Theodorus confirmed that he potion had not come from the College of Wizards or any of their associated alchemists. Ingolf pointed out that the man's scabbard had no peace strap, as is required by law of anyone entering the city armed or bearing weapons inside the walls. Zaccara, finally, produced a small item that had fallen from the man's cloak as he made his exit - a small silver arrow, which everyone present, including Cyrus, recognized as part of Sir Eudamon's elaborate Apollo costume from Vivian's masked ball.

The implications were obvious, and Zaccara pointed out that the man seemed to have knowledge that only someone present at the ball would have had. No-one could remember his face, however, and all were relatively certain he was not actually present. Cyrus assured that he would make a complete investigation, though it was clear that no easy answers would arise in a matter this delicate. Theordorus pointed out to Nicasia that she might have picked someone less well-placed that the Baron's brother-in-law to make an enemy of.

The Baron, though, was apparently aware that something needed to be done about Eudamon. The day before they were to depart the city, Theodorus learned that Eudamon was being given a special appointment as a sort of Imperial Inspector - the duties of which would take him out of Tavia for months at a time. Baroness Gala would assume his responsibilities as part of the Bishop's Curia in his absence.

After these events, even Theodorus seemed eager to be out of town for a while, and in a few days' time the group began the first leg of their journey in search of Ingolf's brother - the trip across Rolgulka to the Dan river - a trip which would take them through the Vale of Thunder and the city of Bratsol, the seat of Lord Vihar's power.


First Post
Episode 15: Be Here Now

Time Elapsed: 7/04 - 7/14/495 A.I.


Before departing Tavia, Nicasia put her family experience to work and secured a wide variety of trade goods to transport into Rolgulka. This served the purpose of helping the company pass themselves off as merchants and also enabling her to hopefully improve her somewhat marginal financial position. Buying and selling are beneath a true Iconian noblewoman, of course, but the Rolgulkans could care less.

So it was that the group departed Tavia yet again, very early in the morning at the start of what looked to be a hot summer day, looking for all the world like a trade caravan of pack horses, one smallish cart driven by Theodorus and even a mule or two. In a few days time they passed by the now un-manned spriggan “roadblock” and wondered what had become of the alternately diminutive and gigantic brigands. Of Lady Zlata and her Immortal’s encampment there was no sign, and in the space of a week or so the group was deeper into Rolgulka than they’d ever ventured before.

The Rolgulkan countryside was even wilder than other parts of faerie the group had visited before. The mountain pass itself was a wilderness region largely unsettled by civilized folk, with only a few scattered farming and herding communities of goblins and orcs trying to scratch out a living in the high mountains. Ingolf believed that the true heart of Rolgulka would be seen closer to Brasov and Vihar’s realm in the Vale of Thunder.

A week or so into faerie, under a sky threatening to burst open into a thunderstorm at any moment, Ingolf heard the faint whinny of a horse off in the woods alongside the path while scouting ahead of the main group. He waited until the rest of the party caught up to him before deciding to investigate. Not far from the road they came across evidence of a panicked flight through the underbrush: broken vegetation, spilled trade goods of cloth and foodstuffs, and the tracks of what seemed to be a cart and two or more horses. Aoelif had no trouble following the trail and it soon lead to a sickening sight. Two horses and an overturned two-wheeled cart were smashed into a tangled mess, wedged between two trees. One horse was horribly wounded but the other seemed merely frightened – both were covered in sweat. Aoelif managed to calm the panicked animal while Martaine mercifully put the other one out of its misery. The wagon showed signs of strange burn marks and a few drops of blood, but there was no driver anywhere to be seen.

Aoelif quickly lead the group back in the opposite direction, back to where the cart had come from, and it was quickly apparent that this trail lead back towards the road. The horses seemed to have cut off a loop in the winding mountain path. Near the road, the group came across a scene of horrific carnage. No less than 9 bodies were scattered about yet another overturned wagon. Blood was everywhere, as well as more of the same odd burn marks that had been seen on the first cart. All of the dead save one were human; the odd man out being a half-orc, whose broken and twisted body looked almost as if it had been seized in some monstrous hand and crushed. Six of the dead seemed to be guards; most had suffered terrible wounds as well as more burns. One corpse was nothing but a pair of legs. Pinned under one side of the wagon was the body of a young Templar of Logos whose face was known to Martaine in passing. He had apparently been trapped when the wagon overturned and suffocated by the weight across his chest. Before he died he had managed to write the cryptic words “two taken bailiff” on the wagon’s sideboard.

Although the guards were all wearing simple armor and clothing, in a secret compartment in the wagon’s strongbox Nicasia uncovered a cache of much finer looking clothing – all in the livery of earl Iustus, the former ruler of Tavia. It didn’t take long for the group to realize what had happened – Iustus had sent a delegation of some sort into Rolgulka, most likely to deliver something to Lord Vihar, and they had been set upon by something that was substantially more than they had expected. What, exactly, had wiped them out remained a mystery for the moment, but soon enough Aoelif had uncovered a set of strange, three-toed tracks that lead off into the woods, tracks as of many creatures walking together. Mixed in with them was at least one set of boot prints as well.

Despite Ingolf’s repeated assertion that they were certainly on the trail of something far too dangerous to tackle, most like “a family of blue dragons” the group decided to follow the easy-to-see path into the forest. It led ultimately to a high cliff face. Twenty-five or so feet above the base of the cliff as a large cave opening; a mound of scree and other debris made for difficult access to what all presumed was the lair of whatever it was they were following. Ingolf and Aoelif elected to sneak as close to the foot of the escarpment as possible while the remainder of the group hid themselves at the forest edge. Whatever it was that waited inside had sharp hearing, for after a moment or two a thundering voice was heard from the entrance saying in Rolgulkan “Who comes before Cryshan! Have you brought . . . ransom? Ransom for my prisoners?”

Though there was some evidence that whatever had attacked the Earl’s men was intelligent, a demand for ransom was not exactly what the group had expected. From his vantage point hidden in some mountain shrub or another, Theodorus could see what it was that addressed the group – a large, blue lizard-like beast. He could only clearly make out the head and neck of the creature, but its body seemed to nearly fill the large tunnel opening into the cliff’s face. With a rush of fear, Theodorus realized that the thing had spotted him. It demanded, loudly and insistently, that he come forth with his “ransom.”

Not knowing what else to do, Theodorus stepped into the clearing in front of the cliff face itself and made a great show of presenting what coins he had handy as his “ransom.” Behind him, Nicasia, Martaine and Zaccara could only watch and wonder what was being said. It soon became apparent, however, that the thing had not yet spotted the two alfar at the base of the cliff, as it had never emerged fully form the opening. So Theordorus “signaled” to his companions that he had formed a plan. Cryshan, whatever it was, decreed that his ransom was not quite sufficient, but ordered him to deliver it up to his lair anyway, and started back its way into the cave.

Theordorus unleashed a fireball into the cave mouth, which was followed immediately by Nicasia’s magic missiles, Martaine’s crossbow bolt and a point-blank arrow fired into the thing’s neck by Ingolf, who was still hidden at the base of the cliff. The beast roared its displeasure and immediately withdrew into the cave. Meanwhile, Zaccara quickly covered the distance to the cliff wall. Not willing to give up the beast’s captives, whoever they might be, Aoelif and Zaccara began scaling the cliff, well aware that they would be nearly defenseless as the approached the thing.

With the aid of her fianna training, Aoelif reach the top first, vaulting over the lip of the cave opening – and into a bolt of lightning which nearly hurled her back out and down the cliff. Ingolf was right behind her and Zaccara behind him. Zaccara quickly had the Spear of Balor at the ready, and so the other two combatants moved to the fore. In moments, Cryshan came hurtling down the tunnel towards them, this time vomiting his lightning towards Ingolf, who nimbly dodged aside. Aoelif leaped over Ingolf’s shoulder to come to blows with Cryshan, and Zaccara plunged his spear repeatedly into the thing’s body. Cryshan reared up to his full height, or as much of it as he could achieve in the somewhat cramped confines of the cave, to reveal his multiple legs, each terminating in a strong, three-toed claw, and thrust himself forwards towards Zaccara. All three of the combatants engaged with the serpent took horrible wounds, but all were able to deal plenty of damage in return, and in a few moments the Behir lay dying.

Aoelif let down a rope to help the other three members of the group scale the cliff face, and together the six adventurers pressed on into the Behir’s lair. The found only a small cave room, littered with a few corpses and some of the Behir’s ill-gotten loot. Against one wall a large stone had been rolled over another cave opening, from which muffled human voices could be heard. Zaccara and Aoelif rolled aside the stone to reveal a small room with two inhabitants, both human males. One had his arm in a sling and from the looks of him was not doing well at all.

The healthy individual thanked the group profusely for his rescue. Apparently, he had managed to save his life by convincing the Behir that his lord would ransom him away from the creature – but he couldn’t make the Behir understand that he would need to send someone to tell his lord where he was being held and what his ransom was to be. The man’s name was Mundus of Edrini, and when confronted with the evidence, he revealed hat he was in fact carrying a letter from Earl Iustus to Lord Vihar.

Mundus told the group what he’d learned of Cryshan's tale. The Behir moved to these parts because a small green dragon named Forbia had moved into the mountainous forests to the west of the Vale of Thunder. Cryshan, of course, attacked it, but found to his regret that the dragon was treating with a tall Rolgulkan at the time of his "ambush." The Rolgulkan and the Dragon joined forces and drove him off - but not before Cryshan had severely wounded the dragon.

The group agreed to accompany Mundus the rest of the way to Brasov and he was grateful for the offer. His wounded manservant, Patrick, was in fairly rough shape. A brief investigation by Martaine revealed that his wounded arm was festering with gangrene and needed to be treated soon if he was to survive. Curing such an infection was, sadly, beyond the templar’s ability. Ultimately, Martaine was forced to amputate the man’s arm at the elbow.

While Martaine and Zaccara were seeing to this grisly task, Nicasia helped Mundus out of his prison cell and she, Theodorus and Aoelif returned to the road to recover what could be salvaged from the wreckage of his traveling company. Ingolf busied himself, as usual, with enumerating the gold and other wealth in the Behir’s horde, most of which was certainly stolen from travelers such as Mundus – but for his part, he gladly surrendered any claim to it out of gratitude at his rescue. With the weather more threatening than ever, the group decided to pass the evening in the Behir’s lair.

Episode Fifteen, Part II: The Thing in the Drawer

It rained for the better part of the night, but the Behir’s cave proved to be dry and secure for the most part against the weather. The next morning was clear and bright as only a morning after a night of rain can be, and the party set out again through the mountain valley, down into the Vale of Thunder and Brasov. The next few days were uneventful, and in less than a week the group was passing through the orcish and hobgoblin farmlands. Many small villages were passed but no serious settlements were seen until Brasov itself came into view.

Vihar’s seat of power was close by the shores of Lake Izvoru, nestled between the mountains and the water. The city was walled but hilly, and the party could see the low buildings of the orcs and goblins, set much closer together than they were on the wide, brick-paved streets of Tavia. On the hill overlooking the center of the city was a huge and formidable looking fortification that could only be Vihar’s castle. Near one end of town, built over the lake itself on pilings, squatted a large, ugly building spewing steam and smokes into the air. This the group would later learn was the chief industry of Brasov – a refinery, where the raw iron ore mined by the orcs was converted into pig-iron for shipment and trade.

After some suspicious questions at the city gate, the group was admitted and taken directly to Vihar’s keep. Along the way were seen a number of large statues representing the most prominent Rolgulkan deities, and the group got a brief lesson in theology from the guard escorting them to Vihar. The most important lesson learned was the Vihar was an adherent of Perkul “He Who Smites Us” – a violent thunder god seemingly best known for his penchant for striking his enemies and followers alike with lightning. A large, open shrine to him was littered with coins and other offerings, which the guide assured the group was “free for the taking.” As none of the party were eager to have yet more lightning tossed there way, all declined this generous offer.

In the castle courtyard, the guard pointed out Vihar’s son Vladik, who was training with some of his father’s troops. Vladik didn’t look to be quite the ogre his father was yet, though he was at least a head taller than even Zaccara. As it turned out, he was a mere youth of eight years – still some time from taking his place as Vihar’s heir or potential usurper.

Vihar himself was surprised yet not at all displeased to see the group again. Far from forgetting the services they’d done him in the recent past, the Ogre seemed to regard them as well acquainted, almost as friend of his household, and he took the time to introduce them all to his son personally. Vihar was dressed in the brightly colored style of his culture, and seemed much more at ease in Rolgulkan wool and furs than he had in Iconian silks. He insisted the group remain the night as his guest. He received Mundus’ communication with some ire at the man having revealed his origins, but Martaine and Ingolf quickly assured the ogre that they’d put the man on the spot after his rescue, and at any rate, the seals on the letters Mundus bore from Earl Iustus were unbroken. Nonetheless, the man seemed mortally terrified of Vihar – a reasonable reaction, but it was unwise to show his fear as openly as he did.

Theodorus also had some mail from Tavia for the ogre lord which he delivered, whereupon Vihar inquired as to the reason for the journey through Rolgulka, as clearly a few letters were not sufficient to bring this particular company of travelers so far from home. Ingolf revealed only that the group was bound for the wild lands beyond Rolgulka itself, to the frozen north via the river Dan. Vihar seemed intrigued, but he did not press the issue. He did reveal a great deal about the political landscape of his country, however.

Beyond the Vale of Thunder lay the domain of a minor ogre lord named Rorric, who owed his crown to Vihar. Through his lands, Vihar assured the group, the could travel at will – assuming he provided them with a guarantee of safe passage, which he graciously offered to do. Beyond Rorric’s country, though, lay a sinister realm rules by one Zakarij. With him, Lord Vihar was often at war, indeed that was why he funded and supported Lord Rorric – to act as a buffer state between the Vale of Thunder and Zakarij’s realm. Even had Vihar and Zakarij not been at war, he warned the group, they would have trouble crossing his lands – for he was a devout worshiper of Nyag, the Lord of the Undead.

Mention of Nyag inspired Theodorus to inquire of Lord Vihar about his own troubles with the renegade Necromancer west of Rolgulka. Vihar replied that while the Necromancer was still troubling him, he did have Kamak, the Ollave (Cleric) of Nyag whose plans the group had disrupted, in his dungeon. “Or most of her, at any rate. Would you like to see her? Come, I will show you.”

It is unwise to argue with an ogre, doubly so a noble ogre, triply so with Vihar. There was nothing for it but for the entire group to go visit Kamak in Vihar’s dungeons, but what awaited them there was more horrid than any of them would have guessed. He lead them across the courtyard of his castle to an iron tower near the center of the complex. The door of the tower opened to a flight of steps – leading downwards. How deep they went was difficult to tell, exactly, but the entire interior of the structure echoed with the weeping and crying of it’s prisoners. Deep below the tower, Vihar was greeted by a truly huge ogre jailer, easily twice his own size – but who nonetheless cringed as if struck when he heard Vihar’s voice. The group noted with some interest that this ogre was also blind. Vihar instructed him to lead them to Kamak, and he began walking down a corridor past a number of low, square doors which all assumed to be cell entrances. He was feeling the wall and counting as he went. After a short distance, he stopped, and pulled on the door he had chosen – which turned out not to be a door at all.

From out of the wall he pulled a heavy slab, almost like a drawer, and on it lay Kamak. Or, as Vihar had darkly said, most of her. Her arms and legs had been cleanly amputated, leaving only her writhing torso. She lay in a pool of her own filth and was clearly not far from complete insanity. Vihar seemed quite pleased with the reaction to this revelation – all of the group were plainly repulsed at his treatment of his captive. Only Theodorus seemed to think Kamak had somehow earned such a fate, and he even went to far as to ask her if she had any further information about her Necromantic master that she’d care to impart. Her only response was her oft-repeated plea for death.

Satisfied with his handiwork, Vihar lead the group back out of his dungeon and into the sunlight. The discomfort of Martaine at being compelled to cooperate with such a man was almost palpably plain, yet he accepted Vihar’s invitation to discuss religious matters with him before the evening meal. Everyone requested a chance to clean the dust off themselves beforehand, however, and Vihar was happy to have them shown to the rooms he’d had prepared for them.

Next: Aoelif cracks some skulls!


First Post
Episode 16: Appetite for Power

Time Elapsed: 7/14 - 7/18/495 A.I.


Once behind closed doors, the group had a little time to discuss Vihar’s dungeons, his hospitality and their next move. Martaine excused himself to consult with Vihar about religious matters, as the ogre lord’s offer of land and funds to construct a monastery was still fresh in his mind. Before anyone else could say a word, however, Aoelif had a few choice comments for Theodorus, which she prefaced by grabbing the man by the collar and bouncing the back of his skull off the floor once or twice. Before the startled magus could react, she told him exactly what was on her mind, saying

“How dare you stand over Kamak like that? What gives you the idea that you can stand over her broken spirit and body? She lead a legion of men who fought and died for her, and had a giant under her control. You have a dog, and an apprentice. You gloated -- as if your cunning captured her. You questioned her -- as if Vihar's priests have not left any secrets uncovered. You even snickered --as if there is no possibility that you may be in her position some day. You behaved badly, not as a hero with a vanquished foe that should now be pitied. Where is your God's compassion now?”

Having said her piece, she excused herself, which is to say rather, she simply left the flabbergasted mage lying on the floor and departed. Ingolf watched the entire scene unfold with no inconsiderable amount of humor. Theodorus, attempting to make some sense out of this turn of events, asked the bard if he could explain what Aoelif meant. He tried to explain that it was not particularly brave or noble, at least in the mind of the alfar, to gloat over a defeated enemy – certainly not to gloat over a defeated enemy that you yourself did not overcome. Theodorus seemed to feel that, as Kamak served a dark and malign lord in the form of Nyag, the orcish lord of the undead, that she was beneath even his contempt.

In the end, it was apparent that Theodorus’ world-view did not admit the possibility of respect or pity for a vanquished foe, at least not if that foe was, in his mind, “evil.” Aoelif and Ingolf were both appalled by Vihar’s treatment of his prisoner, who certainly deserved death in their minds, but not the sort of humiliation and torture to which Kamak had been subjected. Theodorus seemed to believe that, as she served a dark and unholy god, she deserved any fate, no matter how horrible, that Vihar chose to mete out to here. Ingolf and especially Aoelif felt some pity for the legless, armless captive – Theodorus felt only scorn. Ultimately the fianna returned and offered an apology to Theodorus for laying hands on him, who for his part apologized for offending her – though it seemed that he never gained an understanding of what he had done that was so offensive.

That evening the group joined Lord Vihar for dinner, and he made a most generous offer of aid. His brother Burian, he explained, was a sorcerer of no mean skill, who could perhaps disguise all or part of the group as native Rolgulkans, enabling them to move more easily across the territory they would have to cross. In addition, Vihar offered to supply the group with his personal guaranty of safe passage (which took the form of a heavy iron bar with his sigil cast into it) and a letter of introduction to his brother, as well as one to Lord Rorric, the neighboring ogre lord through whose war-torn lands the group would have to pass. Though well aware that all of this assistance came at an as-yet unspecified future price, the group agreed to Vihar’s suggestions and made plans to depart the next morning.

The journey to Burian’s keep was not particularly long or difficult, and was in the direction the group would need to pass at any rate. Along the way it was decided that the group would pose as a human merchant (Nicasia) bringing Tavian goods into Rolgulka, traveling with some hired mercenary guards of both human and Tavian origin. As only Theodorus, Ingolf and Martaine spoke the local language, they three of them would be disguised as Rolgulkans – as an ogre and two hobgoblins, respectively.

The path took the group down the length of the Vale of Thunder and slowly but surely out of the higher mountains and into the foothills. As the party drew close to Burian’s keep, they noticed a large number of gibbets hanging in the woods along the road. At least one of them was still occupied – not by a prisoner, but by an unloving ghoul. By the looks of the remains in the gibbet with the undead creature, it had been imprisoned with a priest of Nyag, whose holy symbol the group recognized from their dealing with the necromancer’s troops in the Rolgulkan hinterlands. Martaine called forth the power of Logos and in a flash of brilliant light the half-starved creature was blasted into dust.

This brought forth the immediate attention of a guard from Burian’s keep, who rode out with an escort at once to accost the group. Although angered at Martaine’s destruction of the ghoul, the guard had little choice but to escort them to the keep when confronted with Vihar’s symbol. In the courtyard outside Burian’s tower the group got their first look at Vihar’s brother.

Burian turned out to be as tall and slender as Vihar was broad and muscled. He was dressed all in black and scarlet, and was shockingly handsome for an ogre. He greeted the group with some suspicion at first, and even when he’d read Vihar’s letter seemed not thrilled to be dealing with humans. His attitude changed somewhat, however, when he noticed Zaccara’s spear. Like all Rolgulkan nobles who’d seen the black lance so far, he seemed desperate to hold it in his hands for just a moment, Despite Aoelif’s protestations, Zaccara gave it to the towering ogre and saw that, as with Lady Zlata, the spear instantly adjusted its size to accommodate the frame of it’s new wielder. Burian was at once eager to test the spear.

Ghouls, it seemed, were in no short supply in Burian’s dungeons. Standard sentence for the worship of Nyag was to be imprisoned with a starving ghoul until the worshiper or the ghoul was dead. Since the worshipers typically went into the ghoul-occupied gibbet with nothing but the clothes on their back, it was always the ghouls that survived the ordeal. Burian ordered one of them brought forth, and two of his guards – members of Vihar’s feared Immortals – dragged one up on two long tethers after a few moments. With visible relish, Burian drove the spear of Balor into the thing’s body, and was rewarded with a conclusive demonstration of the spear’s power. But perhaps to Aoelif’s surprise, Burian seemed more than willing to return the spear to Zaccara once he’d had a chance to examine it. Of the three Rolgulkan nobles who’d seen the spear, none had offered Zaccara so much as a groat in exchange for it. All seemed eager to hold it – how eager they were to possess it was another matter.

His curiosity satisfied, Burian agreed to do as his brother Vihar had asked, and transformed Theodorus into an Ogre and Ingolf and Martaine into hobgoblins. He also supplied the group with Rolgulkan garb and armor before sending them on their way towards Rorric. His last bit of advice was a bit cryptic. Rorric, it seemed, was unswervingly loyal to Vihar and the Vale of Thunder, but his consort Velika was not to be trusted. With those words, Burian sent the group once more on the way east, towards Rorric’s encampment, Zakarij’s lands and ultimately the source of the Dan river.

The journey across Rorric’s lands proved relatively uneventful. Although the group received not a few odd looks from the inhabitants, there was no trouble, and Vihar’s guarantee of safe passage seemed to be respected by everyone who saw it. After some days of walking, the party approached the outlying sentries of Rorric’s encampment. Most Rolgulkans, upon seeing such a mixed group of travelers, concluded that the ogre must be in charge, and so Theodorus tended to take the lead when dealing with questions. The fact that the Rolgulkan’s seemed to expect him to lead via threat and intimidation rather than cunning or charisma meant that he could “play dumb” much of the time without arousing too much suspicion; Rorric’s guards were no exception.

Rorric was clearly preparing for battle against Zakarij’s forces, and the guards at least were none too thrilled to be dealing with a group of “merchants” in the middle of a war zone. The group was brought to Rorric’s tent and greeted there by the fattest ogre any of them had ever seen. Rorric was huge, twice the size of Vihar, most of it fat, and armored cap-a-pie in equally huge plate and mail armor that must have taken an army of smiths months to create. Before introductions could properly be made, he leapt to the conclusion that the group must be the unit of sorcerers he’d been asking Vihar to send. When it was revealed that this was not the case, Rorric became visibly unhappy and the party wondered just how long Vihar’s good wishes would carry them, when Ingolf intimated that, although not the magical aid he’d sought against Zakarij, the group was in fact on a mission into his lands. He implied without saying as much that this mission was on Lord Vihar’s behalf.

Rorric became much happier at this news, and began to press for details of the mission, but Ingolf would only reply that it was “secret.” When he asked if they intended to fight their way across Zakarij’s lands, Ingolf told him that of course they could not – hence the need to pretend that they were a group of merchants. Rorric seemed somewhat doubtful of this plan, and decided that they needed to speak to his “advisor” and summoned forth Velika – the very consort the group had been warned against. While waiting for her, he served up a mountain of food, and the group were compelled by the nature of their disguise to partake of at least some of it. Rorric was very fond of spiced calf’s brains, and though Theodorus found them somewhat less appealing he managed to down an ogre-sized portion for the sake of appearances.

After a short while, Velika appeared with one of Rorric’s war leaders, an orc who was introduced as Mikas. Mikas was every inch the ill-tempered savage that most of the group imagined a Rolgulkan general might be, but Velika was something else entirely. Very slender, very fair of face – looking almost more like an 8’ tall elf woman than an ogress. She pressed Ingolf again for details of the mission, but he was as recalcitrant with her as he had been with Rorric, so she turned her attentions to the seemingly dim-witted ogre Theodorus. He dissembled for a bit, somewhat clumsily, and Velika finally realized that whatever the group’s “secret mission” into Zakarij’s lands was, she wasn’t going to get it from him. Ingolf repeated again that their mission was known to Vihar (partially true) and that they traveled into Zakarij’ lands under his authority.

Mikas snorted his contempt, and asked, as had Rorric, if the group thought they were going to fight their way across Zakarij’ kingdom. Ingolf was growing a bit tired of this question and replied that perhaps it was Mikas’ own brains and not calf’s brains at all upon which Lord Rorric and his guests had been feasting. Needless to say, the orc warrior didn’t appreciate the insult and reached at once for his sword, whereupon Zaccara, unable to understand the exchange, brought forth The Spear.

Velika’s eyes lit up much as had Lady Zlata’s when she saw it. She at once laid a hand on Mikas’ shoulder and bade him halt, then asked Zaccara if she might hold the Spear a moment. Zaccara, somewhat resignedly, handed over Balor’s Spear yet again, and watched as, yet again, it seemed to accommodate itself to the size and power of it’s wielder. Velika handed the spear back almost at once, turned to Rorric, and said “These people should be allowed to continue their mission as soon as they have eaten and rested, my lord. They will be a great aid in your struggle.” Rorric seemed very pleased to hear this, and began discussing with Ingolf when and how the group should depart. Velika, though, pulled the still fuming Mikas aside and said something in low tones that seemed to mollify him somewhat.

Theodorus, though in the appearance of a dim-witted ogre, had lost none of his wits, and he noted closely what Velika seemed to be saying. Though he could not hear her, he was an accomplished lip-reader, and it appeared to him that she said something to the orc warrior about “carve out a kingdom for yourself.” Theodorus couldn’t help but notice that, the whole time she was speaking to Mikas, she had her eye on the Spear.

After the moment of tension, Rorric ordered more food brought forth and Velika and Mikas excused themselves to “prepare for the upcoming battle.” The group wasted as little time as possible with Rorric’s heavily laden sideboard of cabbage, beets and brains – plenty of brains – before taking up the guise of merchants once more and departing. Rorric directed them down a particular road that lead well around the likely site of the upcoming battle and wished them luck in their secret mission. He seemed to have become convinced that the group were a pack of assassins or spies and referred to them as such repeatedly. His lack of subtlety was astounding.

The road down which the group made there way was wide and well-kept, though not paved as were the imperial highways of Iconium. As they rode, the party discussed what their plan would be once they crossed into Zakarij’ kingdom. The guise of traveling merchants, clearly, was coming under a great deal of scrutiny and it was agreed that if Zakarij’ folk were as suspicious and paranoid as Rorric’s had been, the company could be in for some difficult times. An hour or so after passing Rorric’s outlying pickets, the group approach a shallow stream lying across the roadway. Martaine suddenly realized that he could here galloping hoof beats – from behind the party.

As the group prepared to clear off the road and give way to the riders, a group of orc archers suddenly appeared just across the stream, formed into a single row. Just in front of them was Mikas, his two-handed blade already in hand. Although not exactly surprised by this turn of events, none of the group were really prepared for it either. Ingolf called out in Rolgulkan, asking the orc what he wanted, and Mikas simply pointed at Zaccara and said “His spear.” Ingolf relayed this to Zaccara, though he hardly needed to ask what the reply would be, and before he could speak a word to Mikas he discovered that he had several red-fletched arrows protruding from his thigh.

Aoelif, true to form, drew steel and urged her horse into a gallop directly towards Mikas and his archer line. Ingolf was terribly wounded and interested only in getting to cover; he lurched in the saddle and coaxed his horse off the road and into the underbrush as quickly as he might. From the back of the group, the horsemen appeared – four orcs all armed with lances. They charged towards Martaine and Nicasia who were bringing up the rear.

If Mikas was surprised to see the wild form of Aoelif, flaming brand in hand, charging towards him, he no doubt even more surprised when the “dim witted ogre” launched a fireball into his line of archers. Two of the orcs fell but the other three were not badly wounded, and Mikas cried “spears!” in Rolgulkan just as Aoelif came crashing into him, with Zaccara close behind her. Just as she reached him, Mikas took a well-made buckler from his back and tossed it into the air – where it hung, darting about in an attempt to interpose itself between Aoelif and the orc war leader.

Despite this, Aoelif’s flaming blade struck true, but Mikas shrugged off the blow and answered in kind with his own massive sword. Aoelif was nimble and lithe, and shone with the inner fire that only the fianna display, but she was no match for the hardened orc warrior in a toe-to-toe fight. In moments she had been badly wounded and forced onto the defensive, well aware that even one more blow from the massively muscled orc’s two-handed weapon might well be the end of her.

At the other end of the field of battle, Martaine confused and scattered his attackers with a burst of sound. Nicasia took advantage of this development to focus her attention on Mikas and began sending magic missiles his direction as quickly as she was able. Theodorus summoned up a glowing lance of acid and launched it successfully into Mikas’ chest; Ingolf exalted his comrades to ever greater accomplishment while trying to avoid, at all costs, being shot again by Mikas’ archers.

He need not have feared; the archers had dropped their bows and taken up long spears hidden beside the road to attempt to stop Zaccara in his tracks. Zaccara showed his worth again, though, and quickly dispatched two of them before pressing home his attack on Mikas. Aoelif was still busily trying to avoid Mikas’ blows, and with a shout she leapt clearly over the startled orc’s head. A moment too late, Mikas realized that Zaccara was almost upon him and that he was now caught between the human warrior and the alfar fianna. He doubled his efforts to dispatch Aoelif, and might have succeeded but for one thing – Zaccara’s spear, which Mikas discovered to his dismay had suddenly passed cleanly through his body and out his chest. Mikas didn’t even have time for a last curse – he simply grasped the haft of the spear and fell to the ground, dead.

At the other end of the fight, Mikas’ cavalry were shaking off the effects of the sound burst and moving to engage Martaine four-to-one when they witnessed this turn of events. Not thinking much of their chances, all four turned to flee, as did the lone surviving archer, though he was quickly run down and captured by Zaccara. Without saying a word, Zaccara hewed the head from Mikas fallen body and handed it to the archer, then pointed back the way the group had come. The message was clear; rather or not the terrified orc would carry it out the group would not know any time soon, as none of them expressed a desire to do anything other than press on as rapidly as possible.

Ingolf, the wounded pragmatist, quickly rifled through Mikas’ belongings and turned up several interesting items. A detect magic from Theodorus showed that Mikas’ intriguing scabbard seemed to be enchanted, and Ingolf noted with some interest that it would change its size to accommodate any blade from his dagger all the way to Mikas own well-crafted two-hander. He noticed also with some satisfaction that the blade, when drawn from the scabbard, seemed keener than ever. The buckler was clearly magical, and Aoelif claimed it as her own. Also on Mikas’ body were found a few odd coins and a potion, which were tossed into the group treasury for the time being.

Well aware that Velika would be as infuriated by this turn of events as Rorric would be confused, the group pressed on rapidly, hoping to dodge the remainder of Rorric’s army entirely and pass into Zakarij’ lands. There was still many a league between them and the Red Swamp where they hoped to find the Dan river, and though the stories of undead – and worse – they might encounter there did little to cheer them, the though of explaining to Rorric exactly why they’d killed one of his war leaders was even less appealing.

NPCs Encountered

Burian - Vihar's brother and sorcerer. He is a worshiper of Zuar, god of struggle.

Mikas - the now dead orc badass fighter that almost killed Aoelif.

Rorric - the fattest ogre, ever.

Velika - Rorric's ogress consort.


First Post
Episode 17: Life Drains, No Waiting

Time Elapsed: 7/18 - 8/05/495 A.I.


The group pressed on, down through the mountains and over the border into Zakarij’ kingdom. In a few days, it became apparent that the ruse of traveling merchants was best abandoned at this point. No one seemed to be falling for it, and the party were keeping to the side trails and off the main roads as much as possible at any rate. More than once, Ingolf spotted what could only be patrols led by skeletal centauroids in the distance, but the group were able to avoid these for the most part.

Keeping to Lord Vihar’s advice, the company pressed mostly north and east as they came down out of the mountains, hoping to find the great Red Swamp and a clear passage down the Dan river to the sea. The mountains and foothills of Rolgulka did not always cooperate, however, and in a week or so the group realized they were lost. It took several more days of careful trailblazing and scouting to finally find a way down from the highlands to the swampy terrain below, and there a new challenge presented itself.

The Red Swamp was so called because of the many red ferns that grew there, the pollen of which turned much of the water a sickly red color. The water was also home to a particularly nasty strain of the Red Ache, which most of the group came down with at once. Huge, red welts appeared on their skin and fever sapped their strength. Martaine was able, through his skills as a healer and his magic, to hold off the worst cases, but it soon became clear the entire group would be incapacitated in a week’s time or less if the river could not be found. Aoelif did her best to find a track through the taiga-like terrain, but she was clearly out of her element in the strange Rolgulkan back country.

Early one morning, shortly after breaking camp the group were startled by the sudden appearance of a number of birds – not in the air, but on the ground. A dozen or more water fowl had suddenly plunged from overhead and dropped to the ground in varying degrees of paralysis. There was an almost pregnant moment of silence, and suddenly a huge group of deer burst across the trail in something of a stampede. Everyone felt a cold weight settle in their stomach as suddenly a large, black form swung into view overhead. Both Lord Vihar and his brother had mentioned the dragons of the Red Swamp, and one of them had just arrived.

All of the group felt the dragon’s presence even after it flapped out of sight, still pursuing the deer. Several of the horses bolted at once, most throwing their riders – though Martaine managed to cling to the neck of his mule. In moments, the normally slow-moving animal carried the startled cleric down the trail and out of sight. Of the six members of the expedition, only Zaccara was able to master both his own fear and his beast. Ingolf was thrown from his horse but unhurt; he convinced Aoelif, who was busy trying to find a hiding place, to mount up on her oddly nonplused horse and with Zaccara they rode off quickly in pursuit of Martaine and the other panicked animals.

Martaine, for his part, found his mule inexplicable running directly toward the dragon itself, either through sheer panic or some suicide wish he’d never suspected. He managed to get the animal under control before it actually plunged into the open area where the dragon had brought several deer to bay. So it was that Martaine was treated to the rare sight of a dragon feeding, something he would not soon forget, even if he did see it from s considerable distance. He cast the only protective spell he had available and hid as best he could, and after a while spotted the great black winged beast flying off. This may have been in pursuit of more deer or back to sleep off its meal – Martaine wasn’t interested in finding out. He headed back the way he’d come and soon ran into Ingolf, Zaccara and Aoelif, who were searching for him and the other horses as best they could.

When all was said and done, the losses were slight, just a few bags of provisions that one of the horses had dropped in its flight. All of the animals were recovered, though this took most of the day to achieve. Every member of the company went to sleep that night with a muscle strain in the neck from scanning the sky for any signs of the dragon, but those fears were, for the time being at least, unrealized.

Between the days spent wandering lost in the foothills and the difficulty of finding a path through the Red Swamp, the group soon realized that they had no idea exactly where they were. They may have been within the confines of Zakarij’ demesne, or beyond his kingdom entirely. No undead had been spotted in the swamp, but then little had been spotted aside from a few wild animals, some stinging midges and of course the dragon. How far it was to the river or to the great northern sea none knew. There was little for it except to continue to press on north and east.

One night some time after the dragon had passed by, the party were camped on the highest piece of ground available, a sort of natural causeway through the swampy ground, when Ingolf heard the unmistakable sound of hoof beats coming fast and hard towards the group. He quickly roused his companions and the group took up a defensive position as quickly as they might, in the event the rider turned out to be hostile. In a moment the horse could be seen headed up the causeway, being ridden hard by a very terrified looking orc or half-orc rider, who kept glancing over is shoulder, presumably looking for his pursuer.

Though he could, of course, see the group perfectly even in the pitch blackness, the half-orc almost rode past them without noticing the well-armed travelers, so great was his haste. Just after the past the group, he reigned his horse for a moment and shouted “Run! The wolves were hot on my tail, they will be here soon. Run!” Before he could take his own advice, however, Ingolf spotted the wolves in question – two huge dire beasts, the same sort of creatures that had nearly killed him months earlier when the group were tracking down the Necromancer’s forces. At least one of them had a rider, and Inglf thought he saw two other dark shapes drop from the wolf’s backs as they came around the last bend before reaching the camp. In a moment the creatures were upon them.

Ingolf let fly an arrow at the lead wolf but his shot was hasty and went well wide. Everyone else drew up as best they might in a sort of line, and Theodorus provided some magical light so those of the group unable to see in the darkness could tell what was happening. The lead wolf did have a rider, a goblin who leapt from his mount directly at Aoelif just as she moved to engage him. Zaccara came up to support her, and Theodorus and Nicasia immediately began a barrage of spells.

The two dark shapes Ingolf had seen earlier turned out to be a pair of wights, who came up through the woods in an attempt to flank the group. Martaine called on the power of Logos and set the two undead to flight – and provoked a very nasty reaction from the goblin at the same time, who scowled and hissed at the priest, revealing a pair of decidedly oversized canine teeth! The undead goblin lashed out at Aoelif and struck her a nasty blow, driving her backwards even as the two wolves, who on closer inspection looked to be more than half lizard, bore down on her.

Zaccara leapt into the fray against the wolves and Aoelif regained her feet quickly and fought back as well. The mysterious half-orc dismounted and charged into the fray himself, and soon the vampire-goblin and his pets were sorely pressed. He made an attempt to withdraw but Aoelif’s flaming blade found the mark one last time and with a sigh the vampire dissolved into a foul-smelling cloud of vapor which drifted into the woods with gathering speed. The wights had long since fled and the wolves – or whatever they were – lay dead, but Aoelif and Ingolf both were in bad shape, suffering from the chill touch of the vampire and his wight companions. At long last, the group had encountered some of the fabled undead of Rolgulka, and though they prevailed, they were much the worse for the encounter.

While Martaine tended to her wounds, both physical and spiritual, Aoelif asked the strange newcomer who he was and what, exactly, was going on. After a bit of prodding, he revealed that his name was Carijzan. The half-orc attempted at first to be somewhat evasive, but the group saw through his dissembling and in short order he became more forthcoming, particularly in light of Theodorus looming over him with clear intent to do harm.

Carijzan, it developed, was a bodyguard from Zakarij’s kingdom, hired by some humans (!) to escort them north in much the same direction the group were currently headed, all the way to the Northern sea. There they had a great ship to take them then west and south back eventually to Iconium – certainly the longest possible route from the area back to the human empire. Although he was somewhat unclear on exactly what had happened, it was clear to everyone that these humans had done something — something involving dark magic — that had frightened the half-orc desperately. So much, in fact, that he had fled from Zakarij’s capitol rather than stay in their employ.

Once Carijzan became convinced that the group truly meant him no harm — he seemed quite mystified by the erudite, well-spoken “Ogre” Theodorus — Carijzan revealed a bit more. Zakarij, it seemed, had a daughter, who had recently be given in “marriage” — to something the humans who’d hired him had summoned via their magic. Although he didn’t know any real details, Carijzan did say he’d heard the name Atavis used by some of the humans. At the mention of this name, Martaine, Nicasia and Theodorus all mumbled quick prayers and seemed exceedingly disturbed. It was time for Martaine to give a short lesson in theology to Ingolf and Aoelif, as they were both lost.

Atavis, it seemed, was the name the human church gave to Logos’ counterpart or opponent. In short, the Devil. Ingolf seemed to think that this was some sort of Unseelie counterpart to Logos, like Loki or Hel, but Martaine insisted that Atavis was purely evil, a force of chaos, corruption and destruction where Logos represented creation and purity. Martaine seemed completely horrified at Ingolf’s suggestion that these humans had summoned Atavis himself, and put forth the opinion that it was dfar more likely they’d simply called up one of his servants – a troubling enough supposition in itself.

Nicasia asked Carijzan if he knew the humans who’d hired him personally, but he did not. Carijzan had been born and lived most of his life in Lord Vihar’s realm, and was not familiar with humans in general aside from knowing a bit of their language. He did say that he heard one of them address the other by the name tolus — which Nicasia recognized as Ptolos, the family responsible for the royal stables! Things grew worse and worse by the moment — not only, it seemed, was a cult of Atavis active in Iconium, but it had close ties to the imperial family itself!

All of the humans in the group were visibly alarmed and upset by this, although Zaccara seemed the least worried of the group, probably feeling that he had problems enough of his own. Martaine above all felt the need to report this information to his superiors in the church — though rather they would take him seriously or not was another issue. As the group were literally a thousand or so miles from the human empire at this point, there seemed to be little to do but press on with the issue at hand — finding and restoring Ingolf’s brother.

Carijzan reported that he’d passed a river some hours earlier, before his pursuers had fallen upon him, and thought he could guide the group towards it. The decision was made to depart as soon as it was light — an hour or so away yet, and to trust the half-orc as a guide — for the moment. Theodorus and Aoelif, at least, seemed to be keeping a wary eye on him.

Carijzan proved true to his word, and before sunset had guided them to a wide, slowly flowing river that could only be one of the tributaries of the Dan. Somewhere far to the south and east of Vihar’s kingdom was its source, but the group had found it far down its length, much closer to the sea than they’d expected. Zaccara, the most experienced sailor of the group, believed that the mouth of the river might lie within a few days of their current location. Some thought was given to using the folding boat from this point on, but most of the group were still a bit reluctant to part with their faithful beasts of burden, and the terrain seemed easy enough for the time being. Hence the rode on along the banks of the river, headed towards the great northern sea.

The group were well north of Iconium by this point, and the summer sun lasted well into the evening, so they elected to press on and leave the Red Swamp behind them. After a few hours travel, they came across a strange hut perched over the river itself, built on long pilings. A narrow footbridge connected it with the shore. Beneath the building, Ingolf spotted two cages, almost like gibbets – and they were clearly occupied by something. There was some debate as to rather or not to approach the structure, with the majority preferring to simply pass it by. But Carijzan noticed the mark of Baba Yaga — an orcish deity — on the hut’s exterior. The worship of any god but Nyag was forbidden in Zakarij’ realm, and so Carijzan reasoned that whoever lived in the hut might be unfriendly to Zakarij and thus a possible ally.

Ingolf also argued in favor of investigating. He doubted not that whoever was in residence would have seen the group by this point, and so at the very least he wanted to know if they were likely to pass this information on to others. He also held out hope that, if friendly, the inhabitant might be persuaded to tend to the group’s animals until their return, which would make the trip back to Iconium that much easier. Finally it was agreed that Carijzan, Martaine and Ingolf would approach the house while the rest of the group kept a careful watch from the river bank, with weapons and spells at the ready in the event of treachery.

The inhabitant greeted them while they were still on the footbridge – or rather, her voice did, demanding to know what they sought. Carijzan replied that they’d come seeking after wisdom, and a wizened paw appeared at the door, motioning the three to enter. The inside of the house was a treasure-trove of garbage. Fishing nets, rags, bits and pieces of every imaginable type of gear were stashed in heaps all around the interior. The owner proved to be an amazingly ancient crone of a woman, whose ugliness was exceeded only by her stench. Still, Carijzan addressed her with respect, calling her Grandmother and generally behaving politely, as did Ingolf, though the latter was having a hard time determining if the ancient woman was a human, Alfar or some other race entirely.

They asked her many questions. Had she seen any humans pass this way, headed north? No, came the reply, though someone or something had passed by in the other direction, toward the swamp, apparently seeking something. Carijzan squirmed a bit at this. Who had passed by, the asked, orcs? Or some of Zakarij’ undead minions? She cackled at that. Not only his undead minions were prowling, but one of the dragons of the swamp was on the wing as well, seeking something. Or someone. Carijzan squirmed some more, and Ingolf began to get a very bad feeling about the entire affair.

Then the crone asked them questions in turn, wanting to know who they were, where they were bound, and most importantly, how the two hobgoblins (for so Ingolf and Martaine still appeared) had fallen in with the half-orc Carijzan. Lord Zakarij, it seemed, was very eager to find a half-orc that had fled his capitol some days earlier with something he’d stolen. A large reward of gold coins had been offered for this half-orc thief, and the crone seemed to think Carijzan bore a strong resemblance to the one Zakarij was seeking. Whoever he was, she reasoned, he must have stolen something of great value, or done something to greatly anger the lord. The crone insinuated that the half-orc in question had stolen something from Zakarij’s guests.

“It was her undergarments” Carijzan said suddenly, with a bit of a guilty look on his face. “I thought they might be valuable.” Ingolf and Martaine looked at their new companion with a mixture of anger and confusion, and in Ingolf’s case, hidden new-found respect. “Well, well, well,” intoned the crone. “You came seeking wisdom, so let me offer you some – walk out of my house and leave this thief with me. I have want of Zakarij’ gold and this orc is no concern of yours.”

Though he felt a bit deceived (and rightly so) by Carijzan’s sudden revelation, Ingolf was no betrayer. He answered firmly in the negative, and the crone said “Leave him here if you want to live out the day! Now begone!” To which Ingolf replied “Oh, we’re leaving — all of us, together. Let us go if you know what’s good for you — or my friends outside will burn this dungheap of yours down to the waterline!” The old woman smiled an evil smile at that — and vanished.

All three made a mad dash for the door at this turn of events, with Ingolf yelling for Theodorus to do just as he’d said — burn the hag’s house down. A moment later, the woman reappeared on the landing wielding a cruel looking knife, with which she slashed at Martaine before vanishing once more. Ingolf and Carijzan attempted to navigate the narrow bridge as quickly as they might; Martaine for his part simply dove into the water near the house. When he turned back towards the hovel, he noticed that the cages underneath had been ripped open, and he recognized the sallow beings inside as a number of wights – four in all, and all of which were wading towards him through the muddy water.

Ingolf sprinted towards the shore, and Aoelif sprinted towards the house; the two passed one another near the riverbank. Zaccara had his longbow in hand looking for any sign of the old woman, and Ingolf was shouting to Theodorus to burn the whole place to the ground. Carijzan, still on the narrow walkway outside the hut, heard the sound of someone intoning a spell and turned towards it just in time to have the ancient woman deliver an icy, bone-numbing blow to him with her fist. He drew his blade and attempted to retaliate, but the old woman was gone in a few seconds, invisible yet again. Just about then, Aoelif arrived at the door to the hut – but not before Theodorus’ fireball did. A huge explosion shook the structure and immediately set fire to the detritus inside. Aoelif and Carijzan stood shoulder to shoulder just outside the door, looking for any sign of the hag. From the shore, Theodorus cast a spell to fill the inside of the building with a magic web, which immediately caught fire and further fueled the blaze.

Below them, in the river, Martaine once more called on Logos to drive off the forces of the undead, with mixed results – two of the wights turned and fled but the other two kept coming. Martaine backed away from them in the waist-deep water and put forth the power of god once more – and the other two fled as well, swimming towards the middle of the river. On the catwalk above, Aoelif saw something in the old woman’s hut suddenly begin to move – it was her stove, which rocked back and forth a time or two, then crashed through the floor and fell into the river below.

Aoelif and Carijzan stepped back out of the house, which by this time was truly beginning to burn, and leapt from the walkway into the river. The others all kept watch, looking for any sign of the hag, but none was forthcoming – until she intoned another spell. Theodorus watched in obvious panic as a huge, ethereal club materialized out of thin air and flew directly toward him with obvious intent. The hag, revealed by her spellcasting, became the immediate target of every magic missile, arrow and other attack the group could muster. Nicasia watched with some annoyance as her spells seemed to dissipate just as they struck the crone, and most of the arrows and sling stones cast her way missed the mark completely. Once again, the hag vanished, this time with a splash as she dove below the surface of the water.

The next few minutes were chaotic and punishing in the extreme. Theoodorus was beaten nearly into unconsciousness by the spiritual club, but there was nothing anyone could do about that. Zaccara discarded his bow and brought forth his spear, then waded into the water and – much to Carijzan’s surprise – assumed his far more menacing and disturbing form akin to a fomorian. He dove beneath the water’s surface as well, but even in his unseelie- enhanced state he could not see the old woman. In fact, no-one could, and the ancient bitch was free to appear at will, make her attack and then vanish once more before the group could properly retaliate.

Finally Ingolf remembered that in his purse was the onyx form of Cu Dun – the magical watchdog he’d claimed as his share of Svear’s loot. He drew forth the statue and said the word of command, transforming it at once into a living hound – with the supernatural ability to see invisible creatures. Cu Dun dove beneath the waves and spotted the hag at once, whereupon Ingolf directed the entire group to surround her and attack.

Once this tactic was employed, the hag saw that things would quickly go against her and attempted to flee. She could not reach the deeper water, however, without passing close by Ingolf and Aoelif, and so Cu Dun warned them when she made her move and both moved to intercept and attack her. Both struck true and wounded the hag horribly – or so they assumed from her cries of pain — but it was Carijzan who leapt to strike the most telling blow, and the finally visible and unconscious form of the crone appeared in the water — only to be met by one last volley of magic missiles from Nicasia – but this time, they had the expected effect, and slew the hag dead.

Hardly a breath of relief had been drawn before Martaine heard panicked cries coming from within the blazing house. The priest quickly clambered onto the walkway once more and braved the flames inside the building to discover who was trapped within. To his surprise, what he found was not a captive – but a coffin. A coffin containing a weakened goblin vampire that looked very familiar, and very frightened. The pitiful creature begged for his life, promising to reveal the hag’s cache of gold if Martaine would save him. Finally he wailed that he’d never asked to be made into a vampire. “I was a slave! A helpless slave!”

Rather or not Martaine was moved by this entreaty none of the others could say. All they know was that he pushed the weakened goblin bodily from the house into the last rays of the setting sun, where the creature died almost instantly. Ingolf might have seen Martaine mouth the words “May Logos have mercy on your soul” but the fire and smoke made it difficult to see anything clearly. Martaine leapt from the burning building to rejoin the others, the grim look on his face telling more of a story than any words could have.

Moved still more by his companion's loyalty, Carijzan recapped his tale adding more details. He was hired in Vorst, Lord Zakarij's capitol, to act as a guard for some humans who were traveling to a small port where the ogre lord's land meets the cold sea. He asked around and the locals (via Zakarij's guard) told him that these humans summoned a bridegroom for Zakarij's daughter — her screams could be heard throughout his castle on their wedding night.

Carijzan traveled with the humans for a few nights counting one woman and two other men that seemed important, at least rich. (Nobles?) Five other humans accompanied them, but seemed to be servants. Carijzan heard them intoning prayers to Atavis along the route.

Carjizan knows something of magical lore and reasoned that garments taken from some of them could be used to scry their identity. One night he broke into the wagon of the woman and was looking for a scarf or somesuch when an ugly doll she had on her counter sprung to life -- it was some kind of homunculus! He grabbed the first thing at hand and made it to his horse, but was unable to make it out of Zakarij's lands. Carijzan's only hope was to try an elude the pursuers in the Red Swamp. Hence his headlong encounter with the troupe...

NPCs Encountered

Gavrila - a green hag cleric of Nyag, who, while invisible, stood six seconds too long in the same spot...

Glimji - a goblin vampire spawn.

?- Some black dragon that flew overhead and scared the be-logos out of Martaine, Nicasia and Aeolif. Gavrila claimed he was a friend of Lord Zakarij

Assorted fiendish dire wolves and wights.


First Post
Episode 19: Yellow Snow

Time Elapsed: 8/25-8/31/495 A.I.


The dragon dead, Ingolf, Theodorus and Zaccara quickly located its lair, an icy cave hollowed out of the iceberg, and removed what loot the creature had managed to gather. Martaine, Nicasia and Aoelif, meanwhile, rescued the two half-frozen alfar fishermen from underneath the wreck of their boat where the drake had trapped them. Their names were Hermund and Olvir, and they were exceedingly grateful for their rescue.

Olvir was the least frostbitten of the two, and so helped guide Zaccara towards the island known as Ravensguard where the two made their home. Along the way, Theodorus managed to dispel the enchantment that held Ingolf in the shape of a hobgoblin, but he was unable to remove the similar effect from himself and Martaine, so they were forced to remain as ogre and hob themselves for the time being. A day or so later, the misty shores of Ravensguard came into view, and Zaccara guided the magical boat carefully to a landing that Olvir pointed out to him.

The alfar villagers were amazed to see a boat full of humans, elves and goblins sailing into their village, but Olvir quickly called out, explaining to them what had happened. Olmir, the jarl of Ravensguard, was summoned to the docks and came to question the strangers. He thanked them for rescuing Hermund and Olvir and offered to feast the group in his longhouse.

Olmir was a typical alfar jarl – part Viking raider, part chieftain, part faerie warrior. Theodorus and Nicasia were astonished and dismayed at the way he was treated by his “subjects” – accosted on the street with demands to repay old loans, yelled at in greeting from across the waves by returning sailors, and generally treated almost like a commoner by his people. Ingolf tried to explain that all alfar regarded themselves as free and equal men and women, and that at any rate, a jarl who was chosen by vote, as Olmir surely had been, could just as easily be voted out at the next allthing. The concept was beyond the humans nobles, and clearly more than a little distasteful to them.

Olmir, for his part, plied the group with food, ale and mead while Aoelif and Ingolf told the tale of the dragon’s death. He also inquired as to the “ogre and hob” traveling with the group, but seemed satisfied with Ingolf’s explanation that they’d had to sneak across Rolgulka to avoid a war. Finally he wanted to know the reason for their visit so far north. Ingolf explained that they were searching for a great white bear, one with a crippled and burned front paw. Olmir knew of no such bear, but one of his villagers, a fisherwoman, claimed that such a bear lived on Trollhaven, a nearby island, and was in fact “one of the sacred bears of Odin that guard the great shrine.” In the druid’s Skallagrim’s vision of his brother, Ingolf had seen a bear with a mutilated paw being given an offering of food by an alfar. So this was not a complete surprise to him. Of course, he needed to know more about this.

At about this point, a very small and somewhat aged alfar woman came into the longhouse, who proved to be the druidess Haldis. She and Olmir exchanged a rude gesture or two and then she sat down at his left hand. She questioned the group about their presence in the North and Ingolf told her the bare bones of the tale – the group was searching for a maimed white bear. Haldis confirmed the story of the sacred bears of Odin, and also explained that the Ollave of Odin on the neighboring Isle of Trollhaven, an aged alfar man named Keldan , was very hostile to the druids and in fact had chased members of the order from the island before. They gave their worship only to the gods, and not to the earth itself, and this was clearly a sign that they were a broken people.

At some point, Ingolf’s brother’s name was mentioned, and Olmir claimed that a great warrior by that name had sailed with him and his men several years before. This Halvor had lived on Trollhaven and was in love with Astrid, the daughter of Jarl Lundt, the berserk leader of the men of that island. Ingolf asked Olmir if this great warrior had a scarred or burned hand, and Olmir said that yes had had – and that he claimed to have received the wound fighting a Fire Giant. Sadly, Olmir went on to say, Halvor had died two years ago after falling in a sudden crevasse while walking with some friends across one of the glaciers on Trollhaven.

Ingolf of course suspected some sort of treachery at once, and the last little piece of the puzzle fell into place when Haldis revealed that after Halvor’s “death” Astrid had been married off to a berserk named Rungnir – Keldan’s son. It seemed clear at once to Ingolf that his brother had been betrayed by this Rungnir and turned into a bear by his father, so that Rungnir could marry Astrid. All that remained (in Ingolf’s mind) was to find Halvor, change him from a bear back into a man, and then extract vengeance on his betrayers. But Haldis had one more bit of information for the group, an ancient story that revealed much. She produced a scroll which Halvor had left with her when he first came north, and after he’d read it, Ingolf began to see the truth behind the whole mystery.

[See “The Straw Death of Bjorn Jotunhammer"]

Ingolf was familiar with the tale – all but the last section. He had never heard that Odin compelled Loki to retrieve Bjorn’s body and treasures, nor had he heard of the island of Trollhaven before that day. But what was going on was beginning to become more clear. His brother, it seemed, had not renounced his vow to take vengeance on the fire giant Ingemur, but instead had merely gone north to Trollhaven, seeking the Jotunhammer that would make this victory possible. On Trollhaven he had met Astrid and perhaps fallen by the wayside in his quest for the hammer, but it was Rungnir’s treachery that had finally defeated him – trapping him in the form of a great bear.

Ingolf was more determined than ever to find and free his brother from the curse that held him, and if possible to learn if the Jotunhammer was really to be found on Trollhaven. Together he and Zaccara made plans as how best to approach Trollhaven, for they had been warned that the inhabitants were unfriendly to strangers. They decided to wait a few days time, for the men of both islands would soon be sailing off on Viking raids, to gather the loot they needed to appease the Frost Giant Jarl Andvari. Once they were gone raiding, the group would be more easily able to explore the island unseen. Haldis gave them some advice, and also the name of a local alfar man friendly to Ravensguard – a trader named Hrut. She also gave them a general idea of the layout of the island and suggested that Odin’s Shrine might be found in the mountains on the northern end of Trollhaven.

She and Ingolf conferred for a while on the possibility that Loki himself was the true focus of Keldan’s worship and the aged druidess thought the idea might have some merit. It would at least explain the hostility of the Trollhaveners towards the druids and it was also clear that Loki had some connection to the island, if the tale of Bjorn Jotunhammer was to be believed. Nonetheless, she warned them against injuring the sacred bears, for as far as she knew, it was Odin’s shrine they guarded, and angering the Allfather was always a bad idea. Theodorus scoffed at thi, but Martaine warned him against the folly of assuming that all “pagan” deities were mere figments of their worshiper’s imagination. Odin no doubt held power, Martaine argued, even if it was a false power and not equal in glory or might to that of Logos, the true god.

In two days time, the group was ready to depart, with a fresh supply of rations of dried fish and water, as well as mead and some of Olmir’s excellent Rolgulkan liquor, which proved to be an amazingly potent brew. Haldis was gracious enough to use her magic to revert Martaine and Theodorus to their proper forms, though it took the mage a day or two to adjust to the fact that he was no longer stronger than any ox. Trollhaven was not particularly remote, only a day or two away from Ravenguard, and after receiving dire warnings regarding icebergs and other dangers, the group set sail.

The first day back at sea passed without incident. Zaccara sailed the magic Knorr well east of Trollhaven itself, hoping to circle around the island, avoid any alfar raiders intending piracy, and find a secluded stretch of rocky coastline somewhere close to the northern mountains to make landfall. Ingolf was taking his turn keeping watch from the prow of the little boat in the late evening’s fading light when he thought he saw an odd shape – an iceberg, perhaps – lying in the boat’s path.

He turned to shout a warning to Zaccara when suddenly the air was filled with the strangest babble, almost like a hundred voices at once competing to see which could shout the most gibberish. Reflexively, everyone on board reached for their ears, trying to block out the voices that threatened to drive all coherent thought from their minds.

Ingolf shook his head, throwing off the worst of the effects, and looked quickly behind him to see Martaine reaching grimly for his crossbow while Theodorus and Nicasia both prepared their spellcasting materiel. Aoelif and Zaccara, though, simply stood with tortured looks on their faces, Aoelif’s half-drawn sword grasped limply in her nerveless hand. It was then that Ingolf felt the first physical touch of whatever it was that caused all this confusion, when the thing’s teeth sank suddenly into his calf, causing the alfar to whirl about in pain.

Coming over the prow of the boat was a demon of fevered dreams, a mass of eyes and teeth and grasping jaws, with no constant form or shape at all. It was huge, larger even than the dragon they’d recently fought, and its mass threatened to swamp the boat completely. Aoelif stood nearest Ingolf, still with a slack expression on her face, clearly not knowing if she should flee or draw steel. In moments the thing would be upon her as well as Ingolf.

From the back of the boat Martaine let fly a bolt from his crossbow while Theodorus summoned up an arrow of acid which struck the beast as well. As Martaine worked the crank on his weapon, the incessant babbling still battered at his hearing, threatening to make even the simple task of reloading his crossbow beyond him. Suddenly, Martaine heard something completely unexpected – the fair sound of an alfar voice raised clearly and strongly in song – Ingolf’s voice. Even as the bard drew his sword and plunged it into the thing’s hideous form, he was singing loudly and even lustily - an old Iconian drinking song he’d no doubt learned in Tavia. The bard’s voice cut through the gibbering confusion like a blade, overcoming the bewilderment and confusion spawned by the thing’s voices.

Aoelif almost seemed to wake as form a deep sleep, drew her sword and lunged at the thing with vigor. Zaccara likewise threw off the worst of the effects, and with a thought transformed himself, taking on the fomorian characteristics he was granted by his strange tattoo – and suddenly dove overboard, with Balor’s spear clutched in his hands.

The monster was not without other weapons, however, and suddenly several of its mouths seemed to rear back before spitting a long stream of mucous into the air. This erupted with a flash, sending a wave of blinding light over the boat that Theodorus was unfortunately looking directly into. The mage stumbled back with a cry, reaching for his eyes.

Ingolf and Aoelif both plunged their blades into the thing’s midst, or tried to, while Zaccara swam quickly the length of the boat and drove his spear into it from below. Aoelif scored several hits, and the beast was clearly in pain. Six snapping jaws flailed at the two alfar impotently as a barrage of magic missiles from Nicasia ripping into the creature’s bulk. Finally, it had had enough. Its many mouths that had seized hold of the wooden prow of the ship released, and the monster tried to slip backwards into the water and escape, but Aoelif was having none of it – with a shout she drove her flaming blade Sig into the creature one last time, and it literally caught fire from the blow. It slipped lifelessly into the icy water and sank into the depths, trailing a strange glow as if Sig’s fire was still burning it all the way to the bottom.

Theodorus blindness passed quickly, and Martaine determined quickly that none one was seriously wounded, though Ingolf did have several nasty-looking bite marks. These he tended to while the others wondered exactly what the thing had been. Zaccara pulled himself back aboard, having followed the thing down into the deeps a short ways to make sure it was truly dead, and then transformed himself back into his more typical, human, form. Martaine seemed not to be thrilled at the ease with which his warrior friend took on the characteristics of the unseelie, Balor-worshipping fomorians, but at the moment it seemed like a bad time to bring up the fact. The worst horror behind them or so they hoped, the group sailed on.

The next morning they spotted the peaks of Trollhaven’s mountains for the first time, and before mid-day they had landed on a secluded spot of beach not far from a great glacier. They secured all their gear and hid what they could not carry, then Ingolf spoke the magic phrase that caused his ship to fold itself back up. He placed the resulting itme, hardly bigger than Martaine’s copy of the Logrithon, into his pack, and they set out for the mountains.

The rocky peaks above them were not particularly high, certainly not as high as those they passed through to reach Rolgulka, nor as high as Delenach Mor in the cimbri lands, but they were steep and the wind was cold. Even though it was late summer, as the group climbed higher they left behind any sign of green, growing things and passed into a gray and white landscape of stone and snow. Everyone had their cloak pulled tight around their neck and their eyes cast downward when Ingolf spotted a strange mound or drift of snow ahead – strange in that it had eyes, and was watching them.

He called the group to a halt. As they watched, the snow drift made an odd “hrrmph” noise, and sat back on its haunches to observe them. It was a great, white bear, and it was wearing a red leather collar. It watched the group, who all remained motionless, from a distance of 50 yards or so. Finally, when they made no move either towards or away, it seemed to look at them with a disgusted eye, then stood and ambled off, up the mountainside.

By this point it was late in the day, too late to follow, though Aoelif had hopes she would be able to track the thing the next morning. The group pitched a single tent while Aoelif built a fire. They cooked the last of their fresh meat that night and no one looked forward to a diet of dried fish for the next few days. Finally they all gathered into the lone tent and fell asleep, except for Theodorus who’d drawn the first watch.

No more evidence of any bears was forthcoming and the group spent a miserable cold night camped out on the mountainside. The next day, Aoelif was easily able to track the bear’s prints in the crusty snow and the group followed in its steps. They lead to a stair, partly natural, partly carved into the side of the mountain. It was wide and nearly snow-free, and the group headed up it at once. They almost missed the sign that the bear had left this path a few hundred fee up the mountainside, and headed out onto the glacier, but Aoelif spotted the paw prints from above.

The group headed out onto the ice, moving slowly and cautiously. This time, even Ingolf’s keen eyes failed to notice that the large snowy drift they were passing was only partly snow – it was mostly bear. With a snort, the huge white figure rose up to look at the group, this time from very close range. Theodorus got a good look at black gums and the thing’s tongue when it opened its jaws wide to roar in his direction from only a few feet away. No one moved.

The bear seemed a bit confused by this. Everyone began to back away slowly, which brought on another roar of displeasure, so the group froze in place. A few moments passed. The bear roared again. Suddenly Theodorus was laying on the snow, face down, in a posture of supplication. The bear shuffled back a foot or two, and the young mage produced from his pack everything edible he could find – mostly dried fish. This he placed on the snowy ground before him, all the while bowing and genuflecting in a manner most appropriate to a mere man suddenly face to face with one of the “Sacred bears of Odin.”

The bear bought it. He tucked in ravenously to the fish and other food in front of him, and the group stared in slight disgust as several day’s worth of provender disappeared into the bear’s gullet in the space of seconds. The bear burped. Theodorus produced more food – the last he was carrying. This, too, vanished. The bear looked up expectantly. At a loss for what to do, Theodorus pulled out a gift he’d received from the jarl of Ravensguard – a bottle of Rolgulkan liquor, supposedly made from some sort of root vegetable. He knew only that it was very strong. The bear looked puzzled, but when Theodorus poured some of the booze into the ice, it sniffed first, then lapped up the potent booze with relish. Theodorus emptied the bottle onto the ground.

After it polished off the mage’s liquor, the bear sat back heavily on its haunches, licking its lips and generally looking quite pleased. Acting on his hunch regarding the shrine’s true purpose, Ingolf suggested that Theodorus present the holy symbol of Loki that he’d claimed ages ago as part of his share of Svear’s hoard. Theodorus located the silver symbol and brought it forth with immediate and unpleasant results. The bear snarled and growled angrily, and as Theodorus began to back away it rose somewhat unsteadily to follow him.

Ingolf yelled out quickly “Show your scorn for Loki somehow! Quickly! Throw the symbol down and – and urinate on it!” To the bard’s surprise, this is exactly what Theodorus did, prompting Martaine to ask Ingolf if he could make the mage perform any other tricks. Theodorus shot Martaine a withering glance, but then they all suddenly noticed that the bear had stopped snarling, and in fact seemed to be making a strange noise not unlike laughter. Theodorus asked the creature where the shrine to Odin could be found, and the great bear rose to its feet and began to amble off towards the mountain once more.

He lead the group back up the “stairs” to a narrow defile near the peak of the mountain. Near the end of this they cam to an overhang of rock, under which was a huge, smooth slab of some other stone, clearly not natural. In the middle of the slab was the Ansuz rune – Odin’s symbol. And sitting next to the door was another great white bear, bigger than the first – with a burned and twisted paw. Halvor, Ingolf’s brother, was guarding the entrance to Odin’s shrine.

NPCs Encountered

Hermund and Olvir— Two ljosalfar fishermen, the party saved last adv.


First Post
Episode 20: Halvor's Revenge

Time Elapsed: 8/31 - 9/4/495 A.I.


After conferring briefly, the group decided to try the same approach a second time. The first bear walked casually toward the shrine entrance, or what seemed to be the shrine entrance at least, turned, and sat back down. Nicasia approach slowly and cautiously, and placed some food on the ground before him. The bear took the food, and as he did so, she reached out and began to scratch the great beast behind his ear. This was clearly much appreciated by the bear, who made a series of low grunts that sounded almost like speech.

Nicasia called up a spell to see if she could comprehend the creature’s language, and discovered that in fact she could, though the bear seemed to speak only in very simple sentences. Together Nicasia and Ingolf questioned the huge white creature, and learned a few things of interest: he wanted more food, for starters. The most telling revelation was that it referred to the other, burned-paw bear as Halvor. Lastly, it told them that if its collar was removed, it would die. Finally, as night grew on, the bears chased the group away from the shrine, and would not let them camp near anywhere near the stone door. The party made their way back down the mountain nearer to the glacier before setting up camp.

The next morning, Zaccara and Aoelif went hunting, and returned in the afternoon with a pair of seals to offer up as bear food. Ingolf and the others were discussing what the bear might have meant by its belief that removing the collar would kill it. Theodorus had detected a very, very strong Transmutative effect on the collar, and Ingolf believed the bear would die if it were removed because a lone, possibly naked alfar would stand little chance of survival on the icy cold mountain top.

The group camped out one more night, then in the morning broke camp and climbed back to the shrine. This time, their were not two but three bears in evidence. It was also apparent that the Halvor bear, even with his burned a partially crippled paw, was the largest and most dangerous looking. Ingolf suggested that the group present the two now nearly-frozen seal carcasses to the two smaller bears, then slowly withdraw, in the hope the Halvor bear would follow looking for a handout. This plan, as it turned out, didn’t take the subtle social dynamics of the bear’s three-person society into account, for Halvor simply drove off one of the other two and seized its seal for his own meal.

That left the group with a hungry and annoyed bear to deal with, and it wasn’t even Ingolf’s brother. The last of the dried fish was forked over while Martaine worked a spell to summon up the bounty of Logos, which turned out to be a rather unappetizing looking collection of bread and dried fruit and meats – but the bear dove into this repast with relish.

As the three were eating, Ingolf and Nicasia moved close to Halvor while the rest of the group kept a wary eye on the path that lead down the mountain. The bears’ muzzle and face was slick with the blood and fat of the seal on which it was feasting, and the two waited until the thing was more or less finished with its gruesome meal before attempting to come closer. Nicasia grimaced as she reached out at last to scratch behind the bear’s ears and under his chin, for she immediately had seal blubber and blood all over her hand and arm. But Halvor seemed content to let her touch him, and she cast her spell again.

The bear was complacent for the moment, and his speech was slow and ponderous. She asked him if he recognized Ingolf and he replied only “alfar.” She asked him a few other questions as well and got equally useful answers. Finally, at Ingolf’s suggestion, she asked him about the fire giant Ingemur. He became angry at once. Nicasia backed away and the bear roared his unhappiness at her and Ingolf both. Then she said “This alfar seeks revenge on Ingemur” and suddenly the great bear turned a ran across the ice – to the great stone doorway to Odin’s shrine. He stood and leaned against it, pushing with his forelegs, but the door did not budge.

When he returned, Nicasia asked him if the hammer – Bjorn Jotunhammer’s hammer – was inside. And Halvor said, yes, it was. Finally, Nicasia began speaking in soothing tones to the bear, which seemed to calm it somewhat, and she asked it many questions about the other tow bears, the hammer, the ollave of Odin, and other such things. Most of these the bear could not answer, but her questions held its attention – and allowed Ingolf a chance to examine the clasp that held the great red leather collar around its neck.

The clasp was intricate and possibly magical, but it was not (he believed) beyond his skill to remove. As Nicasia spoke to Halvor, Ingolf carefully worked his fingers in behind the clasp, feeling every etched detail of the surface as carefully as he might, until he discovered a small depression or hole. He retrieved a spring steel torsion bar from his tools and with this he was able to trip the latch and released the clasp, thought he collar was heavy and stiff and did not come off completely.

The effect on Halvor was immediate – he turned a bellowed his anger at Ingolf, and sent Nicasia sprawling though unharmed as he did so. Ingolf looked into what seemed like the jaws of death and realized he had a split second to act before the bear mauled him. He mustered his strength and pulled as hard as he could on the two ends of the collar, one held in each hand, attempting to spread the opening wide enough to pull the thing completely off the bear’s neck – and though the leather was very old and stiff, amazingly he was able to do so. He pulled off the collar with a shout – and the naked, once again elfish figure of his brother dropped, stunned, at his feet.

At that very moment, from the somewhere down the path leading to the shrine came the sound of a long, low note blown on a hunting horn. The two remaining bears started at once down the path with seeming eagerness. Halvor as well leapt to his feet – his hands and feet – and started in that direction, before stopping with a bewildered look on his face. Martaine rushed to his side and cast a protective spell on him to hedge out the cold, while Ingolf looked through his magical bag of holding for the winter weather gear they’d brought. Theodorus took the collar, meanwhile, and after securing the clasp so that it could not accidentally lock again, he dropped it into the other bag of holding.

Halvor was confused, to say the least, but after some explanation, he began to understand what was going on – and to remember what had happened. Rungnir, he claimed, had slain one of the sacred bears – and then told Keldan his father that it had been Halvor who’d done the deed. Rungnir tricked Halvor into visiting the shrine – where Keldan unceremoniously decreed that he must take the place of the slain bear, and fastened the collar about his neck without hearing Halvor’s protestations of innocence. Some of Rungnir’s men were present as well – his accomplices.

Ingolf, figuring there was no time like the present, thought he might as well mention to Halvor at this point that Rungnir had married Astryd. The entire group were treated, at that point, to the spectacle of how fearsome a fully enraged alfar warrior can be, as Halvor went charging down the trail in full battle rage, heedless of the fact that he was not only unarmed but completely naked.

The group caught up to him some way down the mountainside, resting in fatigue beside the trail. Ingolf had found the clothing they’d brought and Halvor dressed while the bard explained who everyone was, and what had become of him since Halvor had sworn many years ago to take vengeance on Ingemur and discover the truth about their parents. Ingolf also told his brother the tale of the druid Skallagrim, how he had become convinced of their parent’s innocence and his offers to aid them, and for his part Halvor revealed that, as he believed, Bjorn’s hammer was in fact somewhere within the shrine. Halvor’s desire was plain – take his revenge on Rungnir, take his revenge on Keldan, and enter the shrine to gain the hammer. He was not committed, however, to doing these things in any particular order.

They heard the horn again. Halvor explained that it was feeding time for the bears. Eventually, he would be missed, and whoever it was that had come to feed them would come looking. The group elected to hide themselves beside the trail and wait. After 20 minutes or so had passed, the sound of footsteps crunching in the snow could be heard coming up the path. After a few moments, a tall, red-haired alfar woman came into view. Halvor tensed when he saw her – it was Astryd.

Ingolf stepped suddenly out from his hiding place, surprising the young woman. In his hand, he held the collar that until recently had been around Halvor’s neck, and Astryd recognized it at once. A look of anger and confusion crossed her face. She demanded to know what had been done with the sacred bear of Odin. “I am here!” Halvor exclaimed, and leapt down onto the trail next to Ingolf his brother.

Astryd nearly swooned at that point, and Halvor caught her up in his arms. She wept long, saying over and again that Odin had brought Halvor back to her. Theodorus offered that no, in fact, Odin had little to do with it, and for the first time Astryd saw the rest of the group looking down at her.

Explanations were made and Astryd’s side of the story told. After Halvor’s death she had been compelled into a marriage with Rungnir, but she was not fond of her husband and at any rate saw little of him. She was enraged at Halvor’s story of how he’d been tricked into assuming the collar that transformed him into a bear. Like many of his other friends, Astryd had been told that Halvor was dead, fallen into a crevasse in the glacier, his body lost. Since then Rungnir had risen high among the men of Trollhaven, for he was a Bjornsnark, like her father, and seemed likely to become the jarl of Trollhaven after him.

Halvor craved revenge, and told Astryd as much. She blanched at first at the suggestion that she help him to attack her own husband, but it seemed that her old feelings for Halvor were strong. She had born Rungnir no children, which was telling given that they’d been married for over two years. Halvor asked her how he might have his revenge, and – most importantly – enter the shrine and gain Bjorn’s hammer.

Astryd explained that to enter the shrine, the group would need the rune that hung on the statue of Odin in the stave church in Trollhaven itself. Lundt her father was gone Viking, leaving Rungnir behind to govern in his stead, but Keldan as well was on the island, and was the person truly in charge – in fact, Rungnir was out hunting in the northern woods with his men. She made them a crude map (above) and after much debate, the group hit on a plan.

They would travel to the woods in question, a few days by foot, and see if they could find Rungnir’s camp. Halvor would challenge him and (it was to be hoped) defeat the berserk himself. Astryd seem to believe that when the locals learned of these events, they would send at once for Rungnir’s father. The group could then make there way to Trollhaven via Ingolf’s folding boat, slip into the stave church, steal the rune, and hopefully be well on there way back to the Shrine before Keldan had any inkling of the truth. Astryd herself was not willing to participate in the fight, and she warned all that she would warn Rungnir of any treachery. A fair fight was acceptable, murder in the dark was not.

It took several days for the two rangers (Astryd and Aoelif) to locate the camp. Rungnir and his men were out hunting at the time, and so the group had ample chances to prepare for their arrival. Zaccara adopted his Fomorian form and hid in a shallow stream across which Rungnir’s men would have to pass to reach their camp. Martaine and Nicasia prepared the group with magic spells and the essentials of a plan were laid down – the crucial point of which being that Halvor would face Rungnir himself, leaving the remainder of the company to fend off his guards and companions. Ingolf was slightly worried about this, for Halvor was poorly equipped, having only Theodorus’ two-handed sword (liberated long ago from an orc captain in Rolgulka) and a few magics to defend himself. Furthermore, he was still not completely in his proper mind, often stopping to sniff the air or run briefly on all fours as if he were still a bear. Ingolf resolved to stick as close to his borther in that fight as he was able – he had not come all that way only to see him killed.

After an hour or so of waiting, the sound of a party of folk moving through the woods could be easily heard. Rungnir certainly expected no trouble, and his company made no effort to move quietly. As they came into view, everyone realized that they were looking at a dangerous fight – Rungnir had no less than six retainers with him, all alfar warriors of one stripe or another. As the men began to cross the stream, Halvor drew his sword and leapt out in front of Rungnir with a fairly incoherent scream.

Rungnir’s surprise was evident, and he pulled forth a great axe that Ingolf recognized at once as one that had once belonged to his own father! “Did that idiot Keldan finally figure it out?” Rungnir asked. Before answer could be given, the fight was on.

Theodorus opened with a web spell into the men that had not yet entered the water. One of them was hopelessly entangled in the ropey strands, but the other seemed to avoid the worst of them, and began at once stringing a bow. Zaccara burst suddenly from the water and attacked the closest of the others with Balor’s spear. Nicasia launched a volley of magic missiles into one of Rungnir’s men, but was dismayed when one of them answered in turn, searing her with like magic. She ducked for cover while planning her next move.

Aoelif charged Rungnir’s captain, a huge alfar warrior with a great axe and a breastplate of hammered steel. Ingolf moved towards him as well, attempting to flank, but the barbarian was too skilled for such tactics to prevail. He dealt several painful blows to Aoelif with his great axe, but she answered in kind with Sig. Not ten feet away, Ingolf could see a most unsettling transformation taking place.

Rungnir was slavering with battle lust and hatred, knowing on the haft of his axe as he did so. As Ingolf watched, the berserk seemed to change before his eyes, until he seemed as much bear as man. Halvor slammed into him and dealt several bloody wounds with his sword, but Rungnir answered in kind. The two were evenly matched and both were in the grip of insensate rage.

Meanwhile Zaccara was making short work of his man, and Theodorus had launched an acid arrow into the alfar spellcaster to distract and wound him. He followed that with a fireball in the midst of the group, seemingly unconcerned that Halvor himself would be caught in the blast, but the barbarian seemed to come through the fire unscathed. Nicasia burst forth from hiding long enough to fire off another volley of magic missiles, dropping one of the warriors, and Ingolf continued to assist Aoelif. He was singing in combat, as he often did, and Aoelif felt her spirits rise, though she was badly wounded. Martaine moved up behind and touched her lightly even in the midst of the melee. She felt the healing power of Logos flow through her yet again, and she was grateful for it yet again, though she vowed to pray to Odin and Freya afterwards.

Halvor staggered under a reign of blows from the axe that he himself had once borne, and Martaine granted him his aid as well. Rungnir snarled at him through his bear-like snout and Halvor drove his sword into the bjornsnark yet again. “I’ve enjoyed that bitch of yours these last few years!” he grimaced, but Halvor was not so easily distracted, and it was not as if his rage could be any greater. “Then you’ll be happy to know it was she who lead me to you!” – and with that, he clove Rungnir from collar to sternum with a potent blow, and the startled alfar dropped dead at his feet. At the same moment, Ingolf drove his rapier through the chest of Rungnir’s captain, much to Aoelif’s relief, and Zaccara finished off his man. On seeing their leaders vanquished, the last of Rungnir’s men attempted to flee, but Theodorus and Nicasia were not of a mind to let that happen, and magic felled them before they could take a dozen steps.

Halvor was badly wounded, even moreso when his rage-born strength failed him. Nonetheless, he elected to disguise himself with a few magics and travel into the closest village to set the remainder of the plan into motion. The rest of the group, along with Astryd, traveled overland towards the coast, taking Halvor’s body with them.

Aeolif's Epilogue (by Jess and Wayne)

The night of Halvor's victory Aoelif also decided to take some action on her own. She asked for guidance in the coming battle...

(Jess wrote: )

Can I pour out a bottle of the mead we received from the jarl of Ravensomething island bury a dagger in the snow? I am still injured from the fight, so a little blood from battle may have dripped into the shallow "grave" of the dagger. I will pray to Odin one-eye to take interest in
our winning the brave honerable battle and gain the giant slaying hammer. I will do this after night fall away from the humans. I hope to receive a vision. ( I will ask Ingolf and Halvor if they wish to join me) I am going to sleep the night with my wounds, (I think Marataine is out of healing at this time) since this was the first time I was afraid during the battle of dying. (Never been afraid of an opponant like today's fight with the berserker.) Perhaps the ache will teach me to not jump in front of obvious death?

(DM: )

Your wounds keep you awake all night, but you have no vision.
The first rays of sun peak over the horizon illuminating the tops of the
trees and you feel like a moron. Now you are tired and sore and hurt and you
need sleep.

Pissed, you roll onto your least sore side and...

Insert wavy dream special effect

...all you can see at first is a white mist and the moon above you.

A cool breeze parts the mist and you see that you are actually flying over
the island. Then you jump at the sound of loud cawing of two ravens from
behind you. They fly to either side of you, hovering for a moment. They are
huge -- with 12ft. wingspans at least. They eye you and you get the
impression that the one on your left is rather disgusted with you. It spits
and coughs in your general direction. A more than human intelligence resides
behind its black orbs.

Your concern fades as you enjoy the ride -- how many times do you get to
fly? All seems peaceful for a moment, but then they fold their wings and
fall towards the ground -- you are pulled behind them by their wake. The
ravens dizzily circle the mountaintop above the temple, and you notice that
the temple door bears no rune of Odin -- it is blank. Outside the door lay
two polar bears and you can see where the blood from the seal still stains
the snow.

Then you see the glacier below the temple to Odin begin to glow with a
strange green light from deep inside. The bears wake and begin calling to
one another.

The ravens call out in their harsh squawks and fly to the south, but their
flight seems lazy and unhurried. Soon they come to a walled, wooden town.
They fly towards a huge stave church in the middle of the town and enter
into a sanctuary and land on an effigy of Odin. Tied onto the great spear,
Grungir, is a plain leather thong adorned with a smooth, oval stone. On each
side is a single rune -- one is Thurisaz and the other is Ansuz .

One of the ravens turns to you and says in an old, creaky voice: "I am Munin
and I do not remember a hallowed temple of Odin on the cold mountain."

The other sighs and in a young, laughing (mocking?) tone says: "I am Hugin,
I do not recall ever seeing such a goat-stubborn, prideful girl. You would
have thought that barbarian would have beat some sense into you. Now, wake
up and get healed. The All-Father cares not who heals his warriors as long
as they fight by HIS side! Besides, you'll sleep much better too, idiot!"

You think he winks at you, but you are not sure. They both flutter their
feathers and begin preening themselves, ignoring you.

Insert wavy dream special effect

You wake up.

With that, Aoelif crawled out of her blankets, streached, and started to cook breakfast for the group. She asked Martaine for more healing, and thanked him (Silently thanking her gods as well). Then she went to a snoring Ingolf, gently stroking his long hair untill he awoke. She smiled and told him of her vision.

NPCs Encounted:

Astryd - Halvor's old flame and Rungnir's wife

Rungnir - Halvor's nemesis

Various Magic Bears


First Post
Episode 21: Loki's Last Laugh

Time Elapsed: 9/4 - 9/7/495 A.I.

Prelude (the DM)

Aeolif and Astryd hide the bodies of Halvor's men. Halvor assumes the form of Vidar (the barbarian) and sets off down the track towards the village where he plans to tell the tale of Rungnir being kidnapped by some other Alfar raiders. The rest of you set off, schlepping Rugnir's body back to the coast on a litter with Astryd to guide you. Halvor and Astryd come up with a meeting place a few hours down the coast from Kolbein (the village Halvor is heading to).

It takes you a full day to get over the mountains and you still end up spending the night on shore before you can get down to the breakers in the morning. The beach is rocky where you put in. You pull away to a ruined tower on a spit of land, but don't wait long there until you see a lone figure in a small boat approaching you out of the gloom. It's Halvor in his borrowed clothes. He pulls alongside the boat and you notice a pool of blood-dyed seawater in the bottom of his boat. Two fingers are floating in it. Astryd jumps in his arms anyway.

When questioned, Halvor says that he snuck away from the Kolbeiners who went out to investigate the scene of the battle and went back into town. He told the townsfolk that he was going to take ship and go to Trolhaven. (He realized that the townsfolk may send a boat to Trolhaven.) So he went down to the beach and stove in the rest of their boats with his father's axe. A couple of the men tried to stop him and he killed one, then forced the others to launch him in the remaining boat.

He laughs and says, "One of the Alfar got brave and tried to swamp the boat in the surf - he did not know when to let go, but now he won't have to worry about holding anything in that hand any more."

At Ingolf's look he says, "Do not worry overmuch, Ingolf, or your :):):):) will shrink to the size of your sword! I was still wearing Vidar's borrowed face at the time. They will think Vidar was part of the vikings!"

At Martaine worried glance, "Do not worry little priest, I did not kill the man -- unless the sharks got him before he made it back to shore. HAH, HAH!"

(Nicasia: You could swear some of those fingers look gnawed.)

(Theodorus: Zoe does not like the big man who growls at her.)

You sail for a few hours, weigh down Rugnir's body and toss him overboard followed by Halvor's urine. You sail on and into the cold evening - pulling the boat near the town of Trolhaven in the early dawn. You can find a copse of tall trees a couple of hundred yards away so that you can see the town, but there are no good (non-magical) means to overhear anything intelligible.

The town has no harbor of sorts, but is provided with a wide beach. The landward side of the town has an imposing wooden palisade with towers interspersed. The wall is rather feeble by human standards, but effective. Halvor and Astryd can tell you that there is only room for one man to move along the walls, but the towers are roomy enough for 4-6 archers and the towers as spaced to give short range covering fire. There is only one gate into the town.

The seaward side has no wall, but there are two towers. Three small Alfar fishing craft are beached here.

At the middle of that day you hear horns and a great clamoring. Astryd says that Keldan is calling all the elder warriors to counsel. Over the next few hours you see a few more guards in evidence around the towers and pitch pots can be seen being filled on the beach. Late in the day, a raven-prowed ship is rolled on logs from a building near the beach and around a dozen men can be seen getting into it. A smaller boat is also launched with only 4 men. It heads out to sea, to the south.

The raven-boat moves slowly out around the coastline - headed for Kolbein. A tall, silver-haired Alfar stands nearly naked on the prow of the ship, covered only in a loincloth and a white cape, silver bracers on his arms. He has an eyepatch and is holding a longspear that crackles with white fire. He is calling to the rowers and they are really putting their backs into the job.

"Keldan..." says Halvor and he lets out a low growl.

Astryd put a hand on his arm, as if to restrain him.


Halvor’s mission into Kolbein a success, and Rungnir’s body dumped into the sea, the group hid on the shore an arrow’s flight or so from the walls of Trollhaven. It was decided that Nicasia and Ingolf would steal into the town under cover of darkness, and perhaps invisibly as well, and liberate the rune from around the great statue of Odin. Halvor preferred the direct approach of simply slaughtering as many of the townsfolk as it took to fight their way to the stave church and back, but Astryd reminded him that they were, for the most part, blameless.

Ingolf checked his gear for the third time as the sun set and finally he and Nicasia headed out. They elected to approach from the landward side of town, as it was apparent that most of the inhabitants fully expected to see the sails of Viking ships coming towards their docks at any moment. It seemed that the story of raiders to the north had everyone on edge. They had to cross a river to do so, and though it was not deep the water was cold and not sluggish. Nicasia lost her footing once or twice but made it across just the same. On the far side, Ingolf whipped up a little minor bardic magic to dry their clothes, and the two crept towards the city wall.

They could clearly see that the guards on the landward side, such as they were, had stationed themselves in the towers, leaving the wall unpatrolled. The two rogues slipped up against the base of the wall and Nicasia produced her wand, rendering them both invisible. Ingolf climbed the wall with relative ease, then made fast a light short rope for Nicasia to ascend. They lowered themselves into the town and Ingolf’s magic proved useful once again to detach the rope. The stave church was clearly visible in the center of town.

The entrance, however, proved to be a bit problematic. Although there were no guardsmen on duty, there was a singularly large and unhappy looking dog tied up next to the only entrance. Luckily enough, the two would-be sneakthieves were downwind of the pooch for the moment. Ingolf crept as quietly as he could, keeping tabs on the wind, until he was close enough to work some magic on the hound, then magically untied the rope from the stake driven into the ground. At that, Nicasia produced a little illusion of her own, in the form of several piteously mewing cats coming from just around the corner. The guard dog perked up at this, and went to have a better look. As the trailing end of his lead disappeared around the corner, Ingolf and Nicasia slipped up to the church door.

Ingolf withdrew Aoelif’s magical crystal from his belt pouch and peered through the crack in the door. He could see clearly the interior and the large statue – complete with the runestone about its neck. He could also see the rather unwelcome sight of an aged priest offering prayers. Ingolf could well guess the nature of those prayers – “Allfather, keep us safe from these marauders” and the like. He felt a moment of kinship with this elderly alfar, and however distant, the feeling was strong enough that Ingolf resolved not to do harm to him if he could avoid it. Around the outside of the church was a narrow hallway, through which petitioners would walk, Ingolf knew, to the side door. There a priest would receive their offering and bless or offer to pray with them, on the most busy holy days when the entire congregation couldn’t fit inside the building. He and Nicasia walked, quiet as stave-church mice, through this hall, until they had completely circled the building.

Ingolf realize that from the side door he would just barely be close enough to the statue to use his magical servant to retrieve the stone. Nicasia moved to the main door, then began pounding on it as if a townsperson sought entrance. She yelled out the one or two words in alfar she’d picked up from Aoelif. The ploy seemed to work, as the priest within scowled and walked to the door with a mild curse or two for whoever had disturbed his devotions. Nicasia slipped around the corner, and Ingolf set to work stealing the runestone, as soon as he managed to jimmy the latch holding the door closed.

The first thing the priest noticed was the missing guard dog. He left the door open and went out, with a stronger curse this time, to find the absent doorwarden. Nicasia took advantage of his absence to slip off away from the church into the streets of the town. Ingolf followed as soon as he had the stone – just in time to find the priest tying up the missing dog once more, muttering to himself about poorly-tied knots and whoreson townsfolk who pound on the door to the Allfather’s church then leave before his creaking bones could answer it. Ingolf realized that he was now upwind of the dog and needed to move quickly. He tucked the stone into his pouch and sprinted past the dog and priest both, magically whispering to Nicasia as he did so to run like hell for the wall.

The priest realized at once that something was up, but didn’t know what. As they scaled the wall a second time, Ingolf and Nicasia could hear the sound of a horn blowing somewhere off in the town, and voices coming from the nearest tower. In his haste to get off the wall, Ingolf slipped and made the twenty-foot descent rather faster than he had intended. His natural reflex to roll with the fall didn’t even come into play and he landed hard. Nicasia was already stealing her way towards the river crossing while Ingolf took a moment to unfasten the rope before limping off as quickly as he could on a sprained ankle. A few minutes later, they were back, wet and cold, but with the stone still safely in Ingolf’s purse. The group wasted no time at getting the magic boat back into service and out to sea, as the mothers of Trollhaven brought their children indoors and their men scoured the streets for the spies that had seemingly visited them in the night.

The trip up the eastern edge of Trollhaven Island was peaceful enough, and they pulled into the sheltered cove where they'd made landfall once before under the first rays of the sun. Halvor suggested to Astryd that she remain behind to keep a camp and a pair of eyes on the party's back, and against this idea she fought very spiritedly. So much so, in fact, that at Ingolf's suggestion the rest of the group elected to move a few miles up the trail and leave the two newly reunited lovers to their "conversation."

A half hour or so later, Halvor rejoined them, with a noticeable bruise and dark swelling around one eye. "I finally got her to listen to . . . reason" was all the hulking barbarian had to say. If anyone smirked, they did so behind their hand. The group began the long and tiring climb into the mountains and up the half-natural, half-carved stair that lead to the shrine door, where they would hopefully put the runestone to work.

Ingolf had been disturbed at first on examining the stone, which was actually a piece of ivory, perhaps from a walrus or narwhal. In Aoelif's vision, she had clearly seen a stone with the Ansuz rune of Odin on one face, and the Thur rune of the giants on the other. But this artifact had only Odin's rune and nothing on the reverse. It was Aoelif, though, who discovered its secret. By depressing the Odin rune slightly, the back of the piece could be made to slide open - revealing the Thur rune within. Ingolf's belief that the shrine was not dedicated to the Allfather at all grew even stronger.

Though they were all tired, the group pressed on through the cold night, not wanting to surrender any of the precious head start they had over Keldan in the event he elected to come to the shrine at some point. They reached the door in the late afternoon, aching and weary, yet the thrill of discovery was on them all. Ingolf took the rune and, displaying an outward confidence that he inwardly lacked, pressed it into the Ansuz carved into the great door. At once the slab of stone began to move - tilting outward at the base like the gangplank of a ship.

Ingolf stepped back and waited. After a few minutes, the huge stone slab was flat on the ground. In the middle of the inside surface was the mirror-image of a small indented Thur rune, matching the one on the back of the runestone. A dark passage pierced the side of the mountain directly ahead. To the right, the group saw a great drum and mallet - clearly very old, and covered with dust. On the wall, in alfar, was a message.

"Such is the roll of heroes of Trollhaven who have sought Bjorn's hammer."

Below was five names, written in chalk. The writing was so old that it took a moment to realize that it was writing at all. No one elected to add any names to the list, or to sound the drum, though Zacarra did pick up the mallet and tuck it in his belt. Nicasia produced a magic light and the group could see that the passage extended only a short distance before it gave way to a narrow, rough-hewn tunnel that descended into the darkness.

Ingolf pressed ahead with the rest of the group close behind. The tunnel was not over-long and ended in a small chamber before a pair of large, oak doors bound with brass and iron. An iconic depiction of Odin was on either panel, overlooking a field of battle where valkyries whisked the dead off to Asgard. Suddenly a voice spoke to them, as by magic, saying

"Play my game or away you hie,
For no victory is without a fee.
Lose and you will die,
Win and face my penalty."

The iron bindings of the door were in the shape of the Midgaard serpent, the handles formed from the serpent's twin heads. Ingolf bent to inspect the handles and spotted at once a row of hollow needles, positioned to pierce the fingers of anyone attempting to open the door. He pointed them out to Halvor and the others, then inspected the large brass lock. With relish, the young rogue unrolled his kit of picks and tension bars, all expertly crafted for him by a human master thief in far-off Thracan. Ingolf enjoyed this line of work, and had rather missed it for the last months living more or less honestly in Tavia. He attacked the lock with considerable enthusiasm.

For such an ancient and rarely-used lock, it proved to be remarkable complex.

In ten minutes or so, Ingolf was cursing loudly and fumbling blindly with no more idea how to open the lock than Martaine would a noblewoman's chastity belt. Halvor, never a patient elf, decided he'd had enough, and pushing his brother roughly aside, went to work on the door proper with his axe.

After a few minutes of tiring work, Halvor had splintered one of the panels apart and pushed both doors wide. It was apparent from the look on Theodorus' face that he considered Halvor to be capable of quite any act of mindless, lowbrow violence, but whether the Iconian nobleman found this an embarrassing flaw or a potentially useful virtue was not plain. The group entered the dark hallway beyond the door, with Ingolf going ahead.

What they saw was puzzling. The hall was twenty or so feet wide, and ran straight into the heart of the mountain itself. They could all hear a strange sort of chiming or pounding noise, as of a hammer repeatedly striking an anvil, accompanied by an odd crackling sound. With each blow, a strange light briefly pierced the darkness ahead. Aoelif opined aloud that it reminded her of the breath of the Behir they'd fought months earlier at the very beginning of their quest.

Not thirty feet down the corridor, Ingolf spotted the tell-tale signs of a pit trap laying full across their path. Just before it was a row of holes in the floor, and in the ceiling above a portcullis waited to crash down and block off the only escape route. The alfar quickly determined that the pit door was in fact hinged in the middle, and that by walking down the dead center of the hall the pit doors could be avoided. He went ahead, spotting yet more pits scattered at seeming random along the length of the corridor. He marked each with chalk as he went, and the rest of the company followed carefully in his footsteps. After another 50 or so pit-strewn feet of hallway, the corridor made a ninety-degree turn to the left. From around this corner, Ingolf could hear quite loudly the same hammer and anvil sound, and the odd light splashed across the stone floor with every impact. In the corner he spotted a switch that he expected either disarmed or else opened the pits behind him. Ingolf stepped cautiously around the corner, with Zaccara and Halvor close behind him. The sight before him was bizarre, to say the least.

The corridor ran another twenty or so feet and opened into a large room, perhaps 35 feet square. The ceiling was so high as to be out of sight in the gloom, and the floor was odd indeed. Ingolf noticed with some concern that it was not stone - the floor was actually a metal grate, apparently over a deep (bottomless?) pit - from the entrance he could peer down through the grate into the blackness. Several stone columns rose from the deeps of this pit to support the iron grate. The tops of these columns were not covered by the grate, so the end result was something like a strange chaotic chessboard, with parts of the floor being iron grating and parts being the tops of the stone columns that supported it.

In the middle of the far wall was a great marble statue of Odin, seated upon a huge throne. Ingolf guessed that the figure would be at least fourteen feet tall were it standing. In the statue's right hand was a great ash spear perhaps 20 feet in length. The statue wore a mail shirt - actual mail, not part of the statue - and a leather patch over the left eye. The right eye was a golden orb set into the marble socket. At the feet of this figure was a low stone altar stained with blood and soot.

To the right of Odin's statue in the corner was a smaller statue of Thor. It was holding a metal hammer and Ingolf was surprised to see that the statue was apparently magical - the arm holding the hammer raised and lowered at irregular intervals, smashing the hammer onto an anvil at the statue's feet. With each blow, a loud ringing noise sounded throughout the room, and sparks flew from the anvil.

Finally, Ingolf noticed that the room was not entirely uninhabited. Lumbering about with odd, jerky movements was what he at first thought to be the reanimate corpse of a Troll. After he observed it for a moment, the bard realized that it was in fact a construct, a sort of magically animate statue made from the body parts of various dead creatures. Theodorus confirmed this after a moment's observation. Both men were pleased to note that, for the moment at least, the Troll-golem seemed to be wandering aimlessly, not paying them any attention. Something about the way it moved suggested a form composed at least as much of stone as flesh. Ingolf noticed that the Troll was careful to keep to the metal grate and did not walk on the tops of the stone columns. Every time the statue of Thor in the corner struck with its hammer, crackling electricity could be seen shooting up the Troll-golem's legs.

As the rest of the company gathered behind Ingolf, suddenly the Troll-golem spoke, the changes in its face clearly the result of long-gone magic.

"A treasure of great power awaits you in the halls of green ice
As long as you listen and heed my advice

The answers to my game will never be fair but foul
Answer wrongly and my scourge will make you howl.

Three riddles I'll pose but only the second answer should be heard
To open your way to the third

The first solution is but a key to a door
(a relative whose insight is quite a bore!)

The third answer, though, will unsheath the sword
As long as it's spoken not in words

So gird your small loins and pick out your big ears
Or your bones will be my company for years upon years"

As the group wondered at what this might mean, suddenly the seated figure of Odin spoke, also apparently by magic, saying

"I saw a castle on a height with five doors.
A fine dwelling.
It has two splendid windows and 32 stone towers.
There a rich lady reigns, but also a wicked tyrant"

Before anyone could utter the obvious answer, the Troll-golem moved to attack.

Halvor, clearly not exhausted from his combat with the door, rushed to meet the thing, with Zaccara and Aoelif close behind, all heedless of Ingolf's warnings to wait. Axe, spear and sword all struck true, and when the dead flesh of the thing was rent a strange powder - perhaps powdered stone - came out of the wounds. The golem was hardly defenseless however, and it lashed out with its great fists dealing brutal blows to Aoelif and Halvor both. Then Thor's hammer came down with a crash.

Lightning shot through the iron grate of the floor, burning the warrior's feet where they stood. Equally alarming, it also shot up the legs of the jerkily moving golem, and where it passed it knit the wounds that had been deal to the thing back together, undoing completely the damage that had been dealt. Halvor and Aoelif at once tried to disengage from the thing. The fianna moved off the grate and onto the top of one of the stone columns, trying to isolate herself from the deadly lightning. The golem took advantage of her inattention to wallop her once more. The dilemma became apparent at once - the golem, with its overlong arms, could easily deliver deadly blows to those attempting to fight it, but anyone that sought to engage the thing in close quarters would be forced to leave the relative safety of the stone columns and stand on the deadly iron grate to be killed by the same electric discharges that were healing the golem!

Ingolf saw a clear way to solve this problem, but Martaine beat him to it. Risking the iron grate, the templar dashed across the room towards the statue of Thor and jammed his wooden shield between the iron hammer and the anvil at its feet. Thor's hammer came crashing down onto the shield - and no sparks flew. The three warriors quickly moved again to dispatch the golem before Martaine's shield was utterly destroyed by the statue's hammer, and they did so in fine fashion. The golem's creator had left one final surprise - as Halvor dealt the fatal blow to the thing, rending it from collarbone to crotch with a powerful sweep of his axe, two small glass vials dropped out of the Troll-golem's torso and smashed on the floor with explosive results. Nearly everyone was wounded in the ensuing fireball, then the golem turned fully to dust which sifted through the grating and disappeared into the depths below. The first challenges of the shrine had just barely been overcome, and most of the group were wounded already.

Before Martaine's shield could be completely destroyed, Ingolf emptied out his magical bag of holding on the floor outside the room and then placed it over the head of the hammer. This seemed to offer a long-term solution to the problem of the electrified grating, and the group turned their attention to the problem of the riddle.

"I saw a castle on a height with five doors.
A fine dwelling.
It has two splendid windows and 32 stone towers.
There a rich lady reigns, but also a wicked tyrant"

The obvious answer - "a head" was on everyone's lips. Yet the advice of the first "riddle" was apparent as well - simply saying the answer would not produce any results. It seemed likely that the key was the head of the statue of Odin - but what, exactly, did that mean? Zaccara climbed up onto the seated figure of the Allfather to examine the statue's head. It was not articulated in any way, nor could it be removed or otherwise tampered with without destroying it. Theodorus suggested that he examine the patch on Odin's left eye and Zaccara found that it could easily be removed. Behind the patch was an empty socket. On a hunch, the human warrior looked at the figure's other eye and saw that it was a golden orb, with a large hole where the pupil would be. He stuck his finger into this hole and pulled Odin's eye from the socket with ease. These actions made the three alfar in the room more than a little uncomfortable, and Aoelif remarked that certainly sticking one's finger into Odin's eye could be thought of as foul.

Again on a hunch Zaccara decided to put the golden orb back - in the other eye socket. As he did so, Ingolf suddenly remembered that it was Odin's right eye that had been put out - not the left. Zaccara put the patch back on the statue - over the right socket this time - and the entire throne slowly swung to one side to reveal a narrow passage and staircase winding down into the mountain. The group descended with caution.

As they made there way into the deeps, the temperature rose and soon the entire group were sweating profusely. Halvor believed that the passage they followed was in fact headed towards the mountainside nearest the great glacier, so this rise in temperature was strange indeed. "More of Loki's trickery, no doubt" was all Halvor had to say about it. Finally, the narrow passage emerged into a great chamber where yet another odd sight awaited.

The chamber seemed cut out of the murky ice at the bottom of the glacier itself, and it was huge. An odd illumination came from deep within the ice revealing the entire room. Ingolf noted that the floor sloped gently towards one end, and in the middle of the room was a ditch filled with sluggishly flowing mud. The heat was oppressive, and water constantly dripped from the melting ice. Without a doubt, some powerful, perhaps even divine, magic had carved out this place and maintained it still. At the highest end of the room was a sight that was as scatological as it was bewildering. A great golden pair of buttocks sans a body were exposed in the ice. Loki, it would appear, was mooning the entire group. The river of mud emerged suggestively from between them. Nicasia and Theodorus were rather shocked at such imagery, but Martaine and Zaccara seemed amused. The alfar considered it just another example of Loki's sensibilites.

At the base of this rather base tableau stood another seemingly mechanical statue, this of a dwarf, his hand upon a golden lever. The magic that had powered the other pronouncements activated again and the figure spoke:

"There is a maiden, stillborn of a fruitful mother,
of whom a multitude of birds eat as they
whirl madly over her body."

Several answers were dreamt up - sparks over a burning fire amoung other things - but at each wrong suggestion, the dwarf pulled his lever, releasing yet more steaming mud into the room. Theodorus was briefly overcome by the heat, but Martaine managed to revive him, when Ingolf hit upon the obvious (in retrospect) answer of flies circling a pile of dung. The dwarf pulled his lever once more, and this time the river of apparently volcanic mud was so great that it melted its way into the ice at the far end of the room, hollowing out a passage to the next - hopefully final - challenge.

The air was heavy with moisture and water constantly fell from the melting ceiling to soak the entire group as they trudged through the hot mud. After some distance, the newly-melted tunnel emerged into a cavern of green ice. The group were confused at first as to the odd hue, until they saw the Trolls. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Trolls, sealed within the ice at the bottom of the glacier. In the walls, in the arching ceiling overhead, even underfoot - they were everywhere. Loki had not driven the Trolls from Trollhaven as ordered by Odin - he had simply entombed them here. The clear danger of the situation was lost on no one.

At the far end of the room was a great Viking longboat, wreathed in funereal flames that seemed as frozen as the glacier itself. This the group approached slowly, and then they saw the hammer. Suspended in the static flames was a great hammer, its impossible head a slice of rainbow that shifted as it was gazed upon - there could be no doubt that this was Bjorn's Jotunhammer, the bane of giants, his prized possession. No one dared approach the boat itself, but all marked the heap of swards and giant-sized armor that lay in the stern. Clearly this was Bjorn's funeral boat, frozen in time and ice until this moment.

As they watched, a face appeared in the flames and spoke one final clue:

"Who was born twice, wears a crown every day,
engages in prophesies which are known to all,
although no one understands a word he knows."

Halvor surged forward as if to seize the hammer but Ingolf grabbed him quickly. "Fool of a brother, did you come this far to die in your haste? We must answer the riddle. And not with words, according to the first clue!"

The stark fear of being overwhelmed by a hundred ravenous, newly-thawed Trolls overcame the group at that moment. Martaine and Ingolf surmised that, were they to speak aloud the wrong answer, the ice would shatter and they would be quickly overcome. Aoelif produced a bundle of papers and pen and ink and the group set to discussing the riddle via notes passed back and forth in urgency.

"Born twice?"

"Wears a crown every day?"

"Prophesies known to all?"

It seemed that their cleverness had deserted them. Time wore on and all were keenly aware that every hour they wasted made it that much more likely that Keldan would catch up to them - a possibility they had worked hard to avoid.

"The answer will be foul, not fair, remember" someone wrote, and suddenly in a flash of insight, Martaine had the answer. He almost spoke it aloud, but then remembered, and wrote - "A :):):):). Born first as an egg, then it hatches. The wattles are its crown, it prophesies the rising of the sun - surely known to all - yet no one understands it."

Ingolf said, aloud "But the answer is not spoken in words." Then, with a grin, the bard threw back his head and crowed ":):):):)-a-doodle-doo!"

Bjorn Jutonhammer's funeral pyre began to burn in earnest, the frozen flames released from millennia of bondage. The hammer fell to the ice with a crash and Halvor swept it up as the group began the back-slapping and laughter the release of such stress afforded. Other treasures lay at their feet, not in Bjorn's funeral boat, and these Theodorus and Martaine collected. Suddenly they realized that the boat was burning - burning in earnest - and the ice melting. Great shards of eon-frozen glacier fell from the ceiling to shatter at their feet, and then they noticed with sudden, renewed fear that the outmost Trolls, those closest to the surface of the ice, seemed to be watching them with hungry eyes as the ice slowly began to melt. Somewhere in the mass of frozen Troll flesh, and arm began to twitch, finally free of the ice after who knew how many years of entrapment - and fasting. The thought of a hundred ravenous Trolls in everyone's mind, almost as a man they sprinted towards the exit.

In the next room they saw that Loki's huge golden backside had vanished, apparently an illusion, and the mechanical dwarf was buried up to his neck is a river of steaming mud that melted the ice even faster. Crashing noises could be heard from the room behind them as they dashed up the narrow staircase back to the "shrine" of Odin. Ingolf judged that the passage would be a very tight fit for the Trolls, perhaps impassable, and at the top they stopped a moment to collect their thoughts.

Ingolf retrieved his magical bag of holding and the hammer of Thor went back to work. The lithe bard dodged the lighting strokes as he made his way out of the room, stopping long enough to retrieve the contents of the bag he'd been forced to leave on the floor earlier. He pulled the switch he'd noticed before and all of the pit traps opened wide. The group threaded their way through these, Nicasia noting a body here or there at the bottom of the pits that revealed the fates of at least a few of the other challengers of the shrine. Then they were back to the entrance, where they found that the great stone door had closed behind them.

Ingolf fiddled with the runestone a moment and opened it to reveal the Thur rune on its reverse, then pressed this into the mirror-image on the inside of the door. The huge slab opened and everyone piled out into the cold air on the mountain's side. While Ingolf was pondering what to do with the runestone itself, Halvor seized it and hurled it back into the Shrine, just as the door began to close once more. "That should keep it out of Keldan's hands!" he laughed. "Unless those Trolls manage to make it up the steps" Ingolf replied. "Hadn't considered that. Let's get moving!"

Halvor and Ingolf roused the others, who had already collapsed in the snow, hours of wakefulness and marching catching up with them at last. No one had slept in over 24 hours and they were all footsore, wet, and not a few of them wounded. Wearily the group began the long hike back down the mountain to the sea, Astryd, their boat, and hopefully final flight from Trollhaven.

XP Awarded Per Character: 1138 ( including Halvor)

Bonus points:

Nicasia +197 for stave church adv.
Zaccara + 200 for solving riddle #1
Ingolf +397 for stave church adv. and solving riddle #2
Martaine +200 for solving riddle #3

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