Chronicles of Khaldun: Arctic Death, Infinite Night

Session 40

Monday, February 26, 758 BC

Akkik, Alyonka, Boudica, Gus, Jezzy, Khatun Javach, Saka, Torbjorn, Xevok, and the bear are wary of the carnival, so they approach Suria attempting to avoid the collection of tents. (They are aware that they will still be spotted on the flat terrain, but they might get more warning of an impending assault if they are farther away.) As they get closer, they notice additional features about the abandoned settlement: the outer walls appear to have been crudely painted over in spots, the paint splotches evidently covering something — the travelers surmise that someone painted over images of the Idea of Thorns — and the whole assemblage is plastered with handbills. Although most of the travelers find the handbills to be strange artwork that resolve into adverts for the carnival only after extensive study, discussion indicates they don’t all see the same thing. (Alyonka seems to think her kin are there, both Vistani and tieflings, while Boudica sees images of nature-loving dwarves. Xevok doesn’t reveal what he sees beyond the fact that it seems to disturb and upset him.)

The faint sounds of calliope music float through the abandoned town, wafting from the carnival.

The inside of the village is completely abandoned, and many of the buildings have been burned. (The buildings are also plastered with handbills for the carnival.) Some of the buildings have also been painted, likely to cover artwork depicting the Idea of Thorns. In the center of town is freshly-disturbed earth where a mass grave has been dug. A few wild animals roam the town — the occasional wild dog or wolf or rat or raven — although they flee before the travelers as one might expect of wild animals. Boudica takes the opportunity to spend some time trying to attract a rat, and after feeding it, casts speak with animals. She learns that the chaos occurred some days ago, and that people fled in all directions. The rat notes that the fighting stopped around the time the music started, no doubt referencing the calliope music. The rat also notes that a group of people with painted faces came and buried the bodies. (The travelers suspect these might have been clowns?)

Now reasonably confident that the carnival does not represent a threat, the travelers decide to enter. The barker at the entrance, a tall human man in monochromatic garb named Tindal, gives greeting, introducing them to their “festival of freaks” and announcing that entry is 2cp. Although the travelers initially consider leaving, they reconsider when they learn that the survivors from Suria have taken refuge in here. (Tindal notes that the skurra — the carnival’s equivalent of clowns — buried the bodies and painted over the iconography relating to the Idea of Thorns. He also offhandedly mentions the carnival’s leader, a mysterious woman named Isolde.) Paying their fee and stepping inside, they are about to take the tour of the midway when they spot the unnamed raven shapeshifter who met Torbjorn several days ago. She is among some of the refugees here, apparently trying to comfort them. Torbjorn excuses himself from Tindal’s tour to speak to her, and the others follow suit.

Everyone makes introductions, and she introduces herself as Kartu. She explains that she arrived here a few days ago and found the village in this state. She doesn’t know where her family who normally run The Dress and Lamp would have gone, only that she expects they would have fled rather than being caught in whatever happened here. (They might have gone to Golova? She honestly doesn’t know; Suria was their fallback location, so she has no idea where they might have gone in an emergency.) They likely have valuables buried here, but until she can find them again, she cannot retrieve them.

As Kartu and the villagers know little about their predicament, they ask Tindal if they can speak with Isolde. He leaves to ask as the travelers continue to discuss their current predicament with Kartu. When he returns, he says that Isolde is actually expecting them, and leads them to her tent.

On the way, Boudica picks up Tindal’s scent, and notes that he smells wrong somehow, almost like he’s not really there. When she mentions this, he winks and tells her to not spoil the surprise, as he is the attraction known as “the Amazing Soul-Less Man.”

They are led to a cozy tent filled with cushions and a single short desk. A muscular, raven-haired, pale-skinned human woman sits behind the desk, introducing herself as Isolde. Before speaking to the others, she sends Akkik and Saka away, telling them they may seek sanctuary in the carnival. She also seems to silently communicate something to the bear, prompting the beast to trundle outside.

Once alone, she covers the troubles regarding Suria, although she notes that they were not present for whatever initial chaos overran the village. But from what they’ve been able to piece together from the survivors, some of the villagers started attacking the others, clearly indulging in some manner of proselytizing. It is unclear where the problem originated or where the “infected” went — they likely fled the village in every direction after the carnival arrived. The carnival will not stay here much longer, moving on within a couple of days. They will likely leave this domain and take the refugees with them, although it is not safe for the travelers to accompany them. (Isolde does not elaborate further on the rationale, nor does she indicate where they are headed next, possibly because she does not know: she indicates that their travels take them far and wide on an erratic schedule.)

Turning to other matters, she asks Alyonka about her father. She thinks he might be in the area, and she asks if anyone made contact with Alyonka who might match his description. Any strange men who breezed into her life? The others make note of Thomas, whom they have long suspected of being the mysterious demonic man who is also implicated as Alyonka’s father. Isolde says it is possible, although she cannot say for certain. But it might be worth investigating. (Alyonka, for her part, is quiet for the rest of the conversation as she contemplates this possibility.)

The travelers also inquire about the prophecy that follows them, and Isolde notes that they should probably inquire about such things with Madame Fortuna. She does answer some of their questions about the Domains of Dread, however: the Dark Powers prepare these places as prisons for especially wicked souls, of which it seems Khan Yemur is one. She doesn’t know what will happen if he dies; sometimes domains dissolve, but sometimes another wicked soul takes the darklord’s place. While darklords are not omniscient, they can intercept messages and divinations that would travel outside their domain, including spells such as commune or contact other plane.

With the travelers having no further questions, she notes that their admission fee for rides will be waived for the evening. (Although they will have to pay past their first use of any attraction.) With that, she lets them return to the carnival. Once they leave her tent, Jezzy feeds the bear a goodberry and uses speak with animals to communicate that it doesn’t have to stay. It indicates that it wishes to do so. The travelers then speak with Tindal to see the troupers — what others might call the “freaks.” He leads them through, showing them the Imp, whose malformed tumorous twin grows from his neck; the Brute, a muscular pig-like humanoid of savage proportions; the Illuminated Man, covered with his animated tattoos; the Snake Mistress, an exotic dancer who is said to have once been a snake herself; Wood’n-Head, who can harmessly drive nails and spikes through himself; the Living Skeleton, a woman of frighteningly gaunt proportions; the Hideous Man-Beast, a leopard who is currently in human form as it is the night of the full moon; the Vampiress, a pallid acrobat with bat wings; Mister ?, a faceless man whom Tindal warns Jezzy to not touch for her own safety; and finally, Tindal, “the Amazing Soul-Less Man,” who casts no reflection. (This is less impressive to the travelers, half of whom don’t cast reflections. It seems to steal Tindal’s thunder a bit.)

Having introduced them to the troupers, they wish to go to the arcade. Showing them the available games, they indulge in the following:

  • Jezzy attempts the ring toss, a mechanical contraption with moving pegs. She manages to win a bottle of wine (listed as a 735 BC vintage), which she gives to Alyonka.
  • Torbjorn wrestles two dimunitive creatures called darklings, both wearing plague doctor outfits. He wins a limited-use wand that acts as a wand of scowls.
  • Boudica also attempts wrestling, although she shapeshifts into a bear first. Tindal notes this is technically allowable, and she handily wins, winning a wizard puppet that can cast minor illusion a handful of times.
  • Alyonka enters the poetry contest against the resident poet. Although she makes a valiant effort, he proves more adept at improvisational poetry than she.
  • Jezzy enters a staring contest and wins. The barker incongruously gives her a small painted portrait of a goblin child, clearly a toddler, alongside another similarly-dressed goblin. Jezzy recognizes the goblin as herself as a child — very strange as she never knew her parents, although it’s possible that she is of an age before she was orphaned.

Alyonka also notes to Tindal that she would like a tattoo from the Illuminated Man, but Tindal says she’ll have to wait until the morning.

After playing games at the midway, the travelers head to Madame Fortuna’s vardo to ask about their fortunes. Madame Fortuna, an eyeless Vistani raunie, is as cryptic as one might expect. Jezzy starts to ask about tarokka on Alyonka’s behalf, but then lets her ask the question. Madame Fortuna asks if she wishes to learn, and during the course of the conversation, the topic again arises of Thomas. Torbjorn tells Alyonka that she should ask Madame Fortuna if Thomas is her father, and she angrily leaves. Jezzy follows to make sure she doesn’t get into trouble.

After that awkward interlude, the travelers ask about the card reading they received. Although Madame Fortuna doesn’t know this area well, she expects they’re headed in the right direction, towards the work camp where they will find someone who can tell them secrets about the Khan. She also suspects they will leave this place, although she does not know what comes next for them. Torbjorn asks if he will return home in time to see his father before he passes, and Madame Fortuna says the future outside the domains is cloudy, but he has a chance.

When Jezzy returns, she asks if she and Boudica will have children, and Madame Fortuna says she cannot see. If that is something they wish to pursue, there are ways to make that work. Boudica asks what food Madame Fortuna likes, and while looking wistful, she names a confection called Vistani John. With nothing further to ask, the travelers take their leave, and proceed to find a quiet portion of the carnival to bed down for the night.

Meanwhile, Alyonka storms back to the poetry booth to try again. (Jezzy follows, but when she is certain that Alyonka looks like she’s just trying to be alone for a time, she returns to the others.) This time, she manages to keep up with the poet and wins a clockwork butterfly whose wings flap in the breeze. She pins it in her hair, and then takes the opportunity to speak to the poet, a human man by the name of Sterling Hawthorne. With few other participants entering, he has time to talk, so they sit and drink wine while discussing poetry. (She notes that the bottle of wine from the carnival plays a slow, calliope-like dirge when opened until it is drained.) Feeling lonely and hurt, Alyonka flirts with Sterling, but can’t get a good read on him to figure out if he’s receptive or not. Still, they have a fine time discussing things, and as Alyonka has little desire to return to the rest of the party at the moment, she asks him if he can recommend a spot where she might stay the night…

Session 39

Saturday, February 24, 758 BC

After the initial shock wears off, Alyonka, Boudica, Gus, Jezzy, Khatun Javach, Torbjorn, and Xevok begin discussing what to do with Gennifer’s body. They have no ability to revive her or to use gentle repose at the moment, and carrying her body without resorting to animate dead seems unwieldy. They ultimately decide to bury her, marking the spot so they can return to it if they determine a way to return her from the dead. Khatun Javach recommends stripping her body of valuables — they need her things more than she does, and Laurie might like to have them if they don’t manage to revive Gennifer — and she casts detect magic to ascertain specific items of value. (She notes that a brooch, a ring, a silver dagger, and a few things in her pack all appear to be magical.) After this, Torbjorn says a few words and invokes a shatter spell on the earth so that Boudica can use mold earth to inter the body. Javach and Jezzy both take samples of earth so that they may return here quickly, and after debating whether they ought to harvest anything from the strange tree-creatures — Xevok is interested, but Jezzy refuses and Xevok doesn’t want to risk injuring himself with their poison — the travelers decide to leave and continue on their journey.

The rest of the day is largely uneventful, although they notice that more ravens join the flock that is following them to Suria. At night, they more thoroughly examine Gennifer’s personal effects, dividing up things as they deem useful. (Alyonka takes the healing items, Boudica takes the protective items, Torbjorn takes her holy water and dagger, and Xevok takes the spellbook and pistol.) The night is surprisingly quiet, with the sole exception of a pack of seven wolves that searches the area in the early morning before continuing on their way. (Jezzy left out food and false camps the night before, which the wolves investigate and eat.)

The next morning, February 25, the travelers rise and continue on their journey. Shortly beyond their camp, they find a dead body — although partially eaten by scavengers, Xevok’s assessment is that the body died of poisoning, likely from spoiled rations or scavenged poisonous roots. They deign not to scavenge from the corpse’s pack, and Boudica uses mold earth to cover the body as best she can without touching it. Later in the morning, they encounter another such body, this one mauled by wolves. (Why two lone hunters were out on the tundra is unclear. Perhaps they knew one another?)

After sunrise, just before midday, they spy another group of travelers approaching their position. As they approach and can clearly see the others, they number seven, all clad in parkas and other cold weather gear. One holds a staff, two wield daggers, one wears heavy leathers and carries a spear and shield, and three wear metal armor and carry swords. They hail each other, but as the figures approach, the travelers attempt to give greeting, but the other group takes up a ululation obviously designed to drown out their noise. The one wielding the staff says that they have brought a curse to this land — and before he can speak farther, they prepare for battle.

The wizard is beset by Gus as Jezzy fires on his position; he responds by telling the others to form on him and he invokes some manner of protective barrier around himself. Xevok attempts to cast haste on Gus, but the pair armed with daggers are revealed as wizards when they hammer Xevok’s position with fire bolts, disrupting his concentration and ending the spell. Khatun Javach mutters under her breath as she again invokes a floating blade that resembles a void in space, stabbing the lead wizard with it and cutting one of the other wizards in half.

The travelers largely fold under the strain after that. Boudica summons two dire wolves and turns into a giant elk, rushing into melee with the interlopers. After killing one of the swordsmen and the remaining wizard, two of the swordsmen surrender while the spearman continues to fight Javach unto death. (While he is bleeding out, but still alive, Jezzy begins harvesting his teeth.) The two swordsmen, Akkik and Saka reveal themselves as mercenaries from Golova. Their employer, a wizard named Aviq, seemed intent on confronting the travelers in the hopes of stopping the curse they spread. (He wouldn’t fully explain the nature of this curse, because he seemed to think knowledge of it spread it.) They came from Golova by train, but apparently were not sent by the Khan. Aviq knew where to find the travelers through divination, but it clearly did not aid him. Torbjorn also asks if they encountered a loop anywhere on the train track, and while they do not initially understand the question, one of the pair responds that there is a track heading north a few hours west of Kiiksiugun Colony. The train does not stop there, so they do not know what lies there.

After debating what to do with the prisoners — whether enslaving them as undead, sending them out into the wastes with the clothes on their backs, or pointing them to the nearest settlements — the travelers deign to accompany them to Suria and leave them there. (After taking anything of value from them, of course.) The summoned wolves eventually wander away, and the travelers continue their trek before finding a place to camp for the night. Jezzy establishes a secondary camp outside Leomund’s tiny hut, but she stays outside with Akkik and Saka so that they don’t cause trouble.

Shortly after they establish camp, they notice a lone brown bear trundling across the tundra. When it gets close and begins investigating the camp, Jezzy invokes speak with animals to communicate with it. It has seen nothing untoward nearby, but when Jezzy offers the bear a goodberry, the bear graciously accepts. Despite Jezzy’s warnings about how filling they are, it enjoys the goodberry so much that it requests additional berries, finally stopping at four of them. It then falls asleep next to Jezzy’s camp, much to the consternation of Akkik and Saka. Boudica leaves the tiny hut to pet the bear, which seems in a very good mood and allows this in between naps.

About an hour later, another shape comes loping across the tundra, that of a massive caterpillar much like the one they fought in the Gardens of Ynn. After giving warning to the newcomers to avoid its face tendrils — Boudica tries to awaken the bear and get it to flee, but the bear seems unconcerned — Xevok disbands the tiny hut and the travelers begin hammering it with spells. Boudica summons two giant wasps and sends them after the caterpillar, but it dies before it really makes contact with anyone, having been ravaged by fireballs, fire bolts, and other such spells. Boudica, unsure of what the wasps will do, sends them away immediately.

Certain that the danger has passed, the travelers bed down for the night. Torbjorn invokes a sending to his father, saying, “Father, sorry I’ve been away so long. We face a mighty enemy in a cursed land. How are you doing?” His father replies, “What legerdemain is this? Be you demon or witch? I know you be false, for you are here!” This sparks a memory as Torbjorn flashes back on a conversation he had with his father some time ago, before he left Rottingkroner, when his father described a strange waking dream in which someone appearing as Torbjorn attempted to contact him. Torbjorn informs the others that they appear to be in the past somehow, which may work to their advantage if they leave. Alyonka just muses that she would like to confront Ae’anharuath again.

Apart from a lone, mournful howl across the tundra, the evening is uneventful. The travelers awaken on Sunday, February 26, and after Jezzy feeds additional goodberries to the insistent bear, they continue their journey, evidently with a new companion. In the late morning, they encounter another frozen corpse, this one partially devoured, likely by the caterpillar they encountered last night. They again bury the remains with mold earth before continuing on their way. Shortly thereafter, around midday, they arrive at Suria. The village itself is quiet, possibly abandoned and partially burned with the smell of smoke hanging in the air. The largest sign of life is a garishly-painted carnival that has established camp just outside the village, which seems to be bustling.

Session 38

Thursday, February 22, 758 BC

Alyonka, Boudica, Gennifer, Gus, Jezzy, Khatun Javach, Torbjorn, and Xevok endeavor to walk into the snow-covered plains and head straight for Suria, but the desperate fight against owls begins anew as the beasts begin burrowing up from the ground like worms. Arranging into flocks so that the outer owls can protect the inner ones, they begin dive-bombing Torbjorn and Xevok to disrupt their concentration, causing both the spirit guardians and the levitate spell to fall. Despite the loss of their primary protections, the travelers manage to fight off the owls with a combination of bullets, spears, and spells.

As Torbjorn angrily trudges away from the site of the owl massacre, Alyonka considers gathering an owl corpse so that Jezzy can remove the head and skin it to be kept as an owl skull memento. Jezzy refuses, saying she will gladly work with any bird other than that, and the idea is swiftly abandoned as the travelers leave Kilu to cross the plains.

In the mid-afternoon, flocks of ravens begin following the travelers, which they take to be a good omen. The rest of the afternoon is uneventful, and the travelers make camp and seek refuge in Leomund’s tiny hut for the evening. The ravens flock around their campsite, as is their habit.

After dinner, Alyonka asks if anyone wants a tarokka reading. Torbjorn speaks up, wondering when his father will die, and will he return home in enough time to see him again. Alyonka assembles a basic cross:

  • The first card is the Five of Glyphs reversed: The Druid. As the Focus of the reading, it could refer to Torbjorn or his father or the question, indicating some manner of inner turmoil, mental illness, or obsession. Perhaps his father is mentally ill, or Torbjorn’s worry over his father is eating at him.
  • The second card, representing the past, is the Six of Swords: The Berserker. Was Torbjorn’s father a terror in battle? Did something from his past catch up to him?
  • The third card, the present, is The Seer of the high deck. Representing an unexpected ally, perhaps someone can help Torbjorn find his father before he goes.
  • The fourth card, the future, is the Master of Glyphs reversed: The Priest. Reversed, it represents the forces of evil or enemies of the cause who are going to somehow get between Torbjorn and his goal.
  • The fifth card, the outcome, is the Two of Coins: The Philanthropist. Representing unselfish devotion, it indicates that Torbjorn will certainly try his hardest to achieve his goal before time runs out.

Alyonka apologizes for the lack of clarity in the reading, but acknowledges that such is the nature of the cards.

During first watch, the travelers are awakened as Torbjorn and Xevok hear the lone, mournful hooting of an owl echoing across the plains. However, when nothing goes wrong, the travelers return to sleep.

In the middle of the night, Alyonka and Boudica are awake when three travelers stagger towards their camp and the mob of ravens around it. As they approach, it is clear by their unseemly movements and state of dress that they are a likely staggering undead. The birds clearly try to lead them away from the camp, but the zombies are more intent on the tiny hut, instead staring at it and circling it. After some discussion, Torbjorn awakens and takes care of it by invoking Thor to smite them, blasting the walking dead with holy light. As she is roused by the noise, Javach idly wonders what has transpired that make the dead walk Isiksivik.

The early morning hours are otherwise uneventful, and the travelers awaken without incident on the morning of Friday, February 23. During breakfast, the travelers spy two hunters wandering across the plains, armed with bows and ice axes, coming close to the tiny hut. (The hunters investigate, but do not hunt, the ravens.) Boudica steps out to greet them, which surprises but does not overly disturb them. (She is swiftly joined by Alyonka and Jezzy.) Their voices and stature mark them as two human women, the hunters introduce themselves as Niqpal and Uniq. They indicate they are on the hunt, but are otherwise circumspect, as they do not know these strangers and are far from any settlement. When asked, they do not know why zombies cross the tundra, other than to note that it is a bad omen. With nothing further to discuss, the hunters leave the camp, although the travelers note that they walk in a wide arc and return the way they came.

After breakfast, the travelers continue on their way In the late morning, they pass by a group of eight hunters armed with spears. They wave at each other but continue on their way — Jezzy recommends against speaking to them, given how strangely the previous group was acting, and Torbjorn notes they do not have much time to waste.

In the early afternoon, the travelers spy a lone polar bear. It trundles along behind them briefly before giving up and heading north. Boudica considers speaking to it, and is again rebuffed by the others. Javach asks if she is a devotee of the Old Ways, and if she can speak to plants as they do. Boudie reckons she can, although she hasn’t really tried it before.

In the late afternoon, they pass a herd of eighteen caribou, and again, deign neither to linger nor to attempt to inquire with them.

When the travelers make camp for the day, Xevok invokes Leomund’s tiny hut and the travelers gather for the night. Other than the lone hooting of an owl around dinnertime — which, fortunately, does not summon the beasts — the night is uneventful.

The next morning, Saturday, February 24, the travelers rise and continue their journey. Around midday, they come upon a circle of skeletal trees, the wood old enough to have petrified. Recalling the conversation from yesterday, and noting that vegetation of any size is often rare out on the tundra, Boudica asks if she ought to talk to them. The others agree, so she approaches.

As she does, the “trees” shake themselves off, revealing themselves as the limbs of enormous creatures, partially submerged beneath the snow. Covered in skin like petrified wood and comprising writhing tentacles and thrashing limbs, the “trees” are revealed as the stinger-bearing limbs radiating off the center of their undulating masses.

Jezzy sees what’s about to happen and strafes left, firing her pistols at the beast as the first of the “trees” rushes forward, releasing some horrible wave of howling psychic energy that incapacitates Gus and causes Gennifer to fall to the ground, wracked with seizures and bleeding from her eyes, ears, and mouth. Torbjorn invokes an ice storm to harry and delay the other tree-creatures while Alyonka begins hammering the monsters with fireballs. Boudica rushes forward to engage the one that met the others, and Xevok begins savaging the creatures with lightning bolts. Javach hammers them with fire bolts as the other two tree-creatures try to awkwardly leave the hail-strewn area in which they find themselves to flank the others. One rushes forward and savages Xevok, dropping him to the ground. As Boudica, Torbjorn, and a newly-recovered Gus finish the first of the monsters, Torbjorn moves to interpose himself between the creature and Xevok, while Javach summons a floating blade of night-black energy — almost appearing as a tear in reality — to attack the monsters. Jezzy continues firing her pistols, trying to stay out of harm’s way.

In seconds, the field is silent as the three enormous monsters are reduced to piles of viscera and petrified wood. Jezzy rushes forward to check on Gennifer, but finds her unmoving and unbreathing.

Jezzy falls to her knees and howls.

Session 37

Wednesday, February 21, 758 BC

Alyonka, Boudica, Gennifer, Gus, Jezzy, Torbjorn, and Xevok are not walking long before they hear a voice call out behind them. (Especially odd, as the person approached without a sound.) They cautiously turn around to find Laurie standing behind them, no doubt still possessed by the spirit of Khatun Javach. Torbjorn makes note of the fact that she is not wearing her amulet. (And at various points during the conversation, typically while she is speaking, she looks distracted, her gaze growing distant. Based on how she is addressing Gennifer, she is likely using the tongues spell, as well.)

She explains that she needs their help. She attempted to contact mystic sages to learn what has transpired in this land since she last walked it, only to receive an answer from her brother, Khan Chago. He was also already aware that she was here. (Torbjorn acknowledges that he attempted to contact Thor and learned the same thing. He omits the fact that he is probably the one who informed Khan Yemur of her presence in the first place.) While she has the resources to effectively remain hidden forever, it’s not much of an existence if she spends most of it hiding from her brother. And if he has well and truly done something to depose the gods and the ancestor-spirits, then he must be stopped.

And since these strange outlanders seem to be on the same page, she might as well team up with them.

In exchange, she will offer them assistance — both in terms of magic and information — and she promises to return their friend Laurie to them once her labors are complete. Jezzy says she will offer her own body if Javach requires a vessel, but Javach explains that she has an alternate plan in place.

She makes one last request: can the travelers wait here upon the morrow, when she will join them fully? Torbjorn asks why she wants this, and she explains that she is not really here right now. She will need a day to prepare and then travel to meet them. (When Torbjorn asks how, she indicates that she can teleport, although she reveals that she can only travel to places she has already been. So while she cannot aid them in going to their destination, she can travel back to Golova.) They agree to the terms, and so Javach says she will return tomorrow morning. With that, she disappears.

Once she leaves and they are certain she is gone, Torbjorn asks Xevok how Javach was capable of casting spells without a spellbook. Boudica posits that she might be someone with innate magic, while Xevok explains that she could presumably cast whatever spells she memorized before entering the magic jar. (Suspecting that she was using the tongues spell to communicate with Gennifer, Torbjorn notes that said spell requires material components. To their knowledge, she doesn’t have access to material components…) Given that they have a day’s wait ahead of them, Xevok invokes Leomund’s tiny hut and the travelers wait.

They spend the day performing what research they can perform in the tiny hut.

Torbjorn sends a sending to Thomas Parker, asking, “Where are they keeping you? Are you with Bazshar? You can respond to this message. It’s Torbjorn.” Thomas responds, saying, “Work colony. Solitary confinement; I’m not sure where in the facility. Bazshar is not with me; we were separated before I was captured.” When Torbjorn relays this information, Boudica is upset at the possible disappearance of Bazshar, and falls against Alyonka’s shoulder, crying. Torbjorn then attempts to send another sending to Bazshar herself, saying, “Hey Bazshar. Hope you’re still alive. Don’t know where you are, Thomas said he lost track of you. Hope you’re okay.

She does not respond. While it is possible that she is beyond some planar boundary that inhibits communication, the most likely explanation is that she is dead.

Boudica is greatly saddened at the prospect.

Torbjorn also seeks to get more information about Khatun Javach, so he begins formulating questions to ask her skull with speak with dead. Having formulated his questions, he invokes the power of Thor and asks the following five questions:

1) “Why did you want to outlive your brother?” “I knew he would bring only ruin, and I sought to avoid that ruin.”
2) “How did you accomplish casting the spell that put you into the magic jar?” “I gathered a black pearl and cast the magic jar spell.”
3) “If you did outlive your brother, what were your goals or plans afterwards?” “To rule.”
4) “What spells did you know in life?” “I knew only those spells which my handmaidens taught me.”
5) “Are you aware of any caches of treasure or money that have been sealed away somewhere?” “My own tomb.”

While her answers are cryptic, they at least know that she cast her own magic jar spell, and therefore probably at least knows spells of the sixth circle. More importantly, Torbjorn now has an idea of how difficult it would be to dispel her magic jar spell.

During the day, Alyonka also offers to perform tarokka readings. Jezzy volunteers, asking about her love life, and Alyonka assembles the following basic cross:

  • Representing Jezzy herself, Alyonka first pulls the Nine of Coins reversed: The Miser. Jezzy will likely attain the goal she seeks.
  • Representing Jezzy’s past, she pulls The Mists, also reversed. Representing an unexpected journey or hidden path to success, Alyonka interprets this as Jezzy’s path bringing her to her goal.
  • Representing Jezzy’s present is the Three of Swords, The Soldier. Alyonka notes that the soldier cannot see her own future terribly well, and Jezzy is similarly placed where she cannot clearly see her own outcome.
  • Representing Jezzy’s future is The Seer (sometimes also called The Hero or Esper), also reversed, in this case representing bad luck. Something will come between Jezzy and her goal, although earlier cards indicate that her path is favorable, so she shouldn’t despair.
  • Finally, representing the outcome of the reading, Alyonka pulls the Five of Glyphs, The Druid. (This amuses her greatly, as she interprets the outcome as specifically referencing Boudie.) Representing the balance of nature as well as catharsis, Alyonka says that Jezzy is “going to get a full on penny dreadful scene of passionate confessions and, who knows, maybe a bit of passionate somethin’ else, and everythin’ll be at rights as it should be.”

The rest of the day is relatively uneventful, although they discuss their plans. Under the circumstances, they think it is best to travel to Suria, then Kiiksiugun Colony, and then travel back to Golova via the railway in the hopes of finding the secret warforged factory along the train tracks. (And possibly sabotaging the tracks as they go.)

After dinner, the travelers eventually bed down for the night. Towards the end of Torbjorn and Xevok’s watch, a pack of sixteen wolves pad across the landscape, sniffing at the tiny hut before continuing on their way. During Jezzy’s watch, she sees a single figure, clad in skins and animal bones, emerge from the storm. The figure is translucent and is clearly saying something that Jezzy cannot hear. (Since its mouth is covered, she can’t attempt to read lips, either.) It points to the southwest, along the road, before disappearing as mysteriously as it came. During Alyonka and Boudica’s watch, they note a family of brown bears sniffing around camp, as well as a pack of dire wolves. (Boudica throws food out for both groups.)

The travelers awaken the next morning without incident, save the fact that Xevok’s sleep was troubled in the night. As they are finishing breakfast, Khatun Javach appears outside Leomund’s tiny hut. With all the pieces in place, the travelers set out along the road.

After sunrise, just before noon, the travelers come upon a body in the road — an Isiksivikian who is quite underdressed for the weather and subsequently died of exposure, only wearing pants, boots, a shirt, and a vest. The vest is covered in pockets, and when Torbjorn searches the body, he reveals a smattering of 18sp, three spools of blue thread, and a sealed letter. When he opens the letter, he finds that it is a missive from his own father, Bjorn. He writes that he knows Torbjorn has been traveling, but he feels his strength ebbing and has been coughing blood. He thinks Torbjorn should come home soon if he is able so that they might see each other one last time.

After puzzling over how a letter from Torbjorn’s father found its way to this distant place, they decide that there is little they can do until they find a way out of Isiksivik.

Continuing along the road, they come upon a small village within the next hour. Clearly built among what was once a stand of trees, the village now stands among a field of stumps. Smoke drifts upward from the chimneys, and the sounds of life are heard inside the village, but the gates stand open and no guards stand before them. (A brief glance suggests that the village was once larger, and most of the homes on the periphery are probably abandoned.) Still, the place seems normal enough, so the travelers enter.

One of the first villagers to spot them waves, so they give greeting. Introducing himself as Aulut, he explains that this is the village of Kilu. The villagers do not often receive visitors anymore, least of all outlanders, but if the travelers wish to stay, no doubt one of the villagers can put them up for the night. (When asked about alcohol, Aulut responds that they don’t often have it or drink it, although someone here might have an ancient bottle of something.) Jezzy asks if she might give greeting to the chief of the village, and Aulut directs them to the wise woman, Nuti, in one of the central houses in the village.

Entering Nuti’s hut, she greets them and offers them the village’s hospitality. Jezzy explains their purpose, and she notes that merchant caravans no longer use the Khan’s Road terribly often, so they see few travelers. (The travelers are a little perturbed that she keeps offering for them to stay and that nobody in the village seems overly perturbed at the non-humans in the group, but everyone certainly seems pleasant thus far.) Jezzy and Torbjorn ensure that Khatun Javach can ask any questions she has, but she declines.

With nothing further to discuss, and only wanting to make introductions, the travelers take their leave. Nuti tells them they are welcome any time, and the travelers begin to leave. As they are heading to the eastern gate, they are discussing their plans — realizing that the next village on their map is Siaria and not Suria, they think they will just skip the rest of these villages and travel across the open tundra straight to Suria — and Jezzy notes that she suspects they won’t be able to leave. Nevertheless, they exit the gate without incident and are continuing along the road when Torbjorn gives them a warning that danger is coming and that they should form up on him.

When the travelers look, they spot the huge flock of owls sitting atop the buildings of Kilu — easily numbering six dozen or so. Once spotted, the owls surge forward, but Torbjorn invokes spirit guardians, summoning ghostly valkyrie warriors to defend him and the rest of the party. The owls flock, circling above the travelers and waiting. (Much to the travelers’ chagrin, as they might have hoped that the owls would dive into the midst of the valkyries and be destroyed.) Alyonka ignites a fireball above their heads, prompting a rain of dead and roasted owls, while Boudie conjures a moonbeam to slice through part of the swarm. Torbjorn uses stone shape to raise a pillar from the ground, but he cannot gain enough height to menace the owls. (All the while, Javach is asking why they’re being attacked by owls. The others shout that they’re cursed, but offer no additional explanation.)

That’s when Xevok hatches a very unique plan.

He tells Jezzy to tie a rope to Torbjorn’s feet, because he has an idea. Once done, he casts levitate on Torbjorn, convincing Gus and Jezzy to help him control the rope. Letting slack on the rope, Torbjorn ascends into the air, his valkyries destroying the remainder of the owls. (A few owls manage to slip under his valkyries while he is ascended, causing minor scratches on the travelers, but they pull Torbjorn back to earth and destroy the rest.)

They are about to gather themselves when they notice another huge flock of owls sitting among the buildings. (The villagers, who were watching the proceedings with vague amusement, now retreat to their homes to weather whatever is happening.) These owls circle around the outer rim of the screaming valkyries, clearly having learned the previous trick. Alyonka and Javach both pelt them with magic missiles, but that only kills so many owls. (Although Jezzy notes with horror that Javach fires eleven missiles in quick succession, indicating she is capable of casting spells of the ninth circle.) So, they change tactics: when the owls are circling and watching the circle, Gus, Jezzy, and Xevok begin swinging the rope to swing the floating Torbjorn in a circle, hopefully destroying the owls.

Despite the comical appearance of the plan, it works handily, as the travelers stand among dozens of owl corpses. Just in case of further emergency, all present keep their respective protections in place, and so the travelers walk east along the road as Xevok holds the rope tied to the floating Torbjorn, carrying him like a balloon. They also briefly explain to Javach that they cannot discuss or think about certain kinds of birds without summoning them, and they don’t know how to break this curse.

A pity that they only make it a handful of further feet before one of their number thinks about owls again…

Session 36

Monday, February 19, 758 BC

Although Xevok is keen on stealing Igan’s spellbook, Alyonka, Boudica, Gus, Jezzy, and Torbjorn don’t want to risk it, and everyone agrees that it is likely to turn into a bloodbath, so they quietly take their leave. (Gennifer and Laurie both don’t know enough about the situation to get involved, although they seem upstanding enough that they probably wouldn’t agree to it, either.) Jezzy attempts to apologize to Sukai for shooting him before she leaves, but he sends her away, clearly quite displeased.

The travelers make their way from camp, picking their way through the mountains as they head north towards the village of Qima, according to their map. As they leave the mountains, they find a lone goat the size of a horse, seemingly disinterested in their progress.

It is late afternoon (already past sunset) when they hear the hooting echoing across the plains. They cannot pinpoint the source, but the threat of the birds puts the travelers on edge. As they consider finding shelter to avoid the depredations of the birds, the conversation reminds Torbjorn of the brooch he stole from the tomb. He retrieves it to show the rest of the travelers, and as he does, Laurie staggers forward, apparently dazed with a brief moment of vertigo. When the others look to her, she responds that she is fine — in the common tongue, which Laurie does not know. When they begin inquiring, she swiftly (albeit reluctantly) reveals that she is Khatun Javach. Laurie is now in the amulet and Javach walks in her body; she warns the travelers against breaking the brooch or manipulating the spell, as it will kill Laurie but merely inconvenience Javach. She wants to know what has transpired since she disappeared into her tomb, and while the travelers are foreign, they know a smattering of things — the Khan is still alive, having found some way to cheat death, cut Isiksivik off from the rest of the world, and possibly even drive away the gods themselves. (Given how he seems to project these bodies, Javach notes that they must be constructs of raw magical force, and the Khan must have perfected his orgone experiments. She doesn’t know enough of the details to give them a lead, other than it makes sense that banishment would dispel them.) Javach knew his ambition would bring only destruction, and is resolved to end his rule. Over the course of the conversation, she reveals that she built the tomb to be discovered, as she saw her brother’s potential for ruin and “wished to outlast him.” She laments the fact that he is still evidently around (When asked, she reveals that the sarcophagus in the false tomb bears a false floor that drops into a pit while awakening several dead soldiers to attack the tomb robbers’ companions.) She expresses an interest in returning to Golova to spy upon her brother and end his reign — especially given the horrible things he seems to be doing — although the travelers note that they are outlaws there. When asked about the body in which she resides, she says she does not wish to live in it forever, and will return it unharmed when she is done with it. When they note that Laurie would no doubt be recognized as an outlaw by the Khan, Javach says she has it under control and that it is none of their concern. (Realizing that they no longer need her head to speak with her, Torbjorn gives it to Xevok. Javach has no particular attachment to it, having abandoned her body long ago.)

(When the travelers ask if she recalls anything of her brother’s habits when he was young, she also indicates that her memories of childhood are very fragmented, as she has not accessed them in a long time and will need to think about it.)

Since the day continues and they have miles to go, the travelers resolve to discuss this more in the evening when they make camp. They continue on their way, their journey north interrupted only by a howl in the distance. The threatened owls do not return.

Eventually, they make camp with Xevok invoking Leomund’s tiny hut. (Jezzy builds a small shelter for watches, so that if someone happens across the tiny hut, there is an actual representative of the camp to speak with them without any travelers having to interact with the magic of the hut and potentially scaring the locals. Javach scoffs at this practice.) Over dinner, they converse a little more with Javach, having resolved to fully explain the situation to an increasingly-concerned Gennifer in the morning when Torbjorn can prepare tongues to communicate with her. Torbjorn passes the brooch to Xevok for examination, and he does not require sorcery to identify what happened: the black pearl on the silver brooch is probably the focus of a magic jar, which can potentially be dispelled or destroyed without killing Laurie. He keeps this to himself until he has an opportunity to tell the others. Javach asks if she can have her brooch back, and Xevok gives it to her; although Torbjorn seems ready to protest, thinking it good leverage, Xevok winks at him, indicating he has some manner of plan.

Further questioning reveals that the skin of the tupilaq can probably be used as a cloak to ward off spellcraft — potentially useful for anyone having to go toe-to-toe with the Khan. It probably couldn’t be wrapped around him as proof against his magic, certainly not without further modification.

The travelers don’t fully trust Javach, so she does not have a watch tonight, which seems to suit her just fine. (Her mood is terse and demanding; the travelers quickly surmise that she is a noble, and is used to getting her way.) They reset the watch order: Torbjorn and Xevok on first watch, Jezzy on second watch, Alyonka and Boudica on third watch, and Gennifer and Gus on fourth watch. Xevok informs Torbjorn of the magic jar and all that portends. If she cast the spell herself, she is capable of casting spells of the sixth circle and is no doubt a powerful magus, but not so powerful that they could not potentially overpower her in combat. Although the brooch makes good leverage, he thinks it better that they stay on her good side until they decide it is time to do otherwise.

The rest of the night is largely uneventful. As Alyonka and Boudica’s shift ends, they see a small herd of four mammoth pass, although Boudica is disappointed that no babies are with them. A herd of thirteen caribou pass the camp while Gennifer and Gus are on watch, but there are otherwise no interruptions.

In the morning, over breakfast, the travelers continue to speak to Javach to plan their next move. Torbjorn invokes tongues on Alyonka so she can explain the situation to Gennifer; she is obviously displeased, but understands the situation in which they find themselves and how they have few choices. Although Javach is adamant that she will relinquish this body at some ill-defined future date, the travelers are equally concerned about how they might be get her into another body or otherwise free Laurie from the amulet. Javach is eventually bored of this, and before anyone can react, she invokes words of power and disappears, leaving most of Laurie’s equipment behind. (Armed with only the clothes on her back, her coat, and the Khatun’s brooch.) As far as anyone can tell, she is gone — she leaves no tracks behind (as she might with invisibility) and is not visible close at hand (as she might be with dimension door). Although Gennifer is understandably upset, Alyonka and Boudica reassure her that they will retrieve Laurie. After all, they suspect she is heading to Golova, and they have tools of their own to uncover information. (Although Alyonka is concerned, because she suspects Khatun Javach used a wish spell to bring herself forward to this time, given her note of “wishing to outlast” her brother, and her lamentation that he still exists. Wishes rarely unfold as their invokers expect.) Given that they have their own tools, Torbjorn realizes that he can attempt to commune with Thor to learn more information, invoking a prayer of divination. He asks about Khatun Javach and how they might best find her, and is surprised to hear Khan Yemur’s voice answer in response, commenting, “She has returned? Interesting…”

Torbjorn emerges from his trance to give the others the bad news. However, this just reinforces that they don’t have time to waste: they must continue onward to meet the raven-druids in Suria and then investigate Kiiksiugun Colony to find secrets about Khan Yemur and to rescue Thomas. (They don’t know where to find “a mill where souls are bound and embodied,” but it is supposed to be along the railroad, so they can no doubt find it by following the tracks from Kiiksiugun Colony.) As previously noted, Qima is next on their map, and they expect to reach it by midday.

They reach Qima without incident, but as the travelers stand on the ridge overlooking the village, they note that it is ruined and abandoned, half-buried by snow. (Xevok also has a weird feeling — a fleeting melancholy, perhaps? — that soon passes.) The noonday sun is muted by cloud cover, as if a storm soon threatens. The travelers spy movement which they think to be wolves, although Torbjorn thinks they are moving too intelligently for mere beasts and are likely men in the shapes of animals. They decide to give this place a wide berth to avoid any curses that may emerge from disturbing the ruins, instead skirting around the outer edge of the town and continuing east.

After about four more hours, the travelers stop and make camp, invoking Leomund’s tiny hut. Tonight is largely uneventful, with only a herd of thirteen caribou wandering past the camp shortly after first watch begins. The rest of the night passes uneventfully, and the travelers awaken on the morning of Wednesday, February 21, ready to continue towards Kilu and parts east.

Session 35

Monday, February 19, 758 BC

Alyonka, Boudica, Gus, Jezzy, Torbjorn, and Xevok, as well as Gennifer and Laurie Weathermay-Foxgrove, awaken and begin making plans. The plan is straightforward: create a front rank to slow down the skeletal guardians and hammer them with whatever spells seem most effective against them. (There is talk of determining an order in which to cycle through spells, but it is eventually decided to just wing it, as it’s likely to fall to chaos anyway.) Jezzy gives the wand of orgonic disruption to Alyonka, largely because Jezzy is probably going to be focused on her guns and Alyonka seems more likely to have an opportunity to use it. Torbjorn has prepared speak with dead so that they can interrogate Khatun Javach’s corpse for clues, while Xevok gathers some of yesterday’s corpses to raises a zombie and a skeleton to bolster his remaining skeleton before they disembark for this tomb.

Satisfied, the travelers meet with Igan and Sukai, and after breakfast, descend again into the mine. Torbjorn invokes tongues so he can effectively communicate with everyone, including Igan (who did not prepare tongues today so that he would be better positioned to war with any monsters present) and anything they may find in the tomb.

They open the doors and find the beginning chamber as they left it yesterday. The skeletal armatures do not move, but they suspect the creatures will animate when someone enters the room. Once everyone is in position, they begin.

Xevok sends his undead into the tomb to form something of a shield wall as Boudica summons four black bears, sending them to attack the skeletal armatures. The skeletal armatures quickly cut them down, although it slows them enough that the undead front rank is particularly effective. Gus and Torbjorn move behind the undead to enter into melee while Jezzy begins firing at the skeletal statues and the rest of the spellcasters begin pelting the skeletal creatures with spells — although the creatures are resistant to many of their magics, holy magic and sound-based attacks seem particularly effective. Boudica eventually moves forward, invoking thunderwaves before turning into a dire wolf to better destroy her foes.

Although the skeletons manage to destroy the summoned undead and cause minor abrasions to Laurie when she enters into melee with one of them — a flurry of rapier strikes and gunpowder — the skeletal guardians are soon dismantled. However, Torbjorn recognizes his chance: if they attempt to ambush Igan later, it may be more suspicious than continuing the current onslaught. As such, he nods to Xevok, flicking his eyes over to Igan. Xevok gets the point and turns on Igan, who has enough presence of mind to trace a counter-sign in the air and negate the spell.

Sukai is caught more off-guard than Igan, although when he begins to defend Igan, Torbjorn makes sure to say that this was his idea. Igan is caught off-guard, but doesn’t hesitate — he invokes a spell that causes him to phase from this reality. Xevok recognizes the blink spell, meaning that Igan is in the ethereal plane and will return in moments; he tells the others to surround Igan’s former position to prevent him from escaping, and Xevok emphasizes this by summoning Tenser’s floating disk to help block Igan’s escape.

As Igan reappears, Laurie was ready, shoving her Parthian rapier through his throat and pulling the trigger, blowing off his lower jaw as he slumps to the ground in a pool of his own blood. Sukai runs, and both Gus and Jezzy try to prevent his escape, with Jezzy firing on him while Gus runs after him, throws his spear, and then pulls his crossbow and fires. Despite the fact that Sukai is clearly becoming tired and is grazed by the spear, he flees up the stairs and out of the mine shaft, yelling all the while.

It swiftly becomes clear that the guards in the camp establish a perimeter, and the shouting indicates they have orders to fire if anyone emerges. They are clearly ready to starve the travelers out, and they do not listen to their bluffs. (Even though Sukai suspected Igan was some manner of cultist, he is far more worried about the potent warriors and spellcasters currently hiding in the tomb.)

Torbjorn, however, develops a plan. He cannot cast speak with dead, as he will need that power to escape, but they can always take the Khatun’s head with them and speak with dead at a future time. He asks the others to cover him as Boudica thunderwaves the tent into the campsite and Torbjorn invokes thaumaturgy while saying that he means no harm to anyone, but he will not let the guards stand in their way. The guards, having taken positions behind tents, rocks, and boxes, open fire, but Torbjorn only has to dodge a few of the bolts thanks to his heavy armor, and only one of those manages to graze him. He then invokes Thor’s power to summon a storm cloud and call down lightning in the middle of the camp. Not feeling comfortable calling his bluff (and not realizing how tired he is), Sukai and the guards stand down. Torbjorn explains that they only wish to examine the tomb, take what they came to find, and take their leave. Sukai is displeased at the prospect of them disturbing the tomb, since they came on an academic expedition, but Torbjorn says they only want information. Sukai agrees to let them into the tomb unmolested as long as they take a guard with them, and if he does not return, they will open fire on the group. Torbjorn agrees, and Sukai sends one of the lieutenants, a man named Tuulu, down to accompany them.

They ask what Tuulu did to anger Sukai and get on this duty, but he says it is merely his job. The travelers first investigate the tomb beyond the opening chamber, finding another vaulted stone room. At the far end is a raised dais with a sarcophagus, and the walls to the left and right are lined with funerary niches — six to a wall, or twelve in total. Each niche contains a body wrapped in a burial shroud. Most notably, one of Xevok’s skeletons is in here, clearly having been bashed or cut apart by some large force. The travelers, recognizing that this room is both in plain sight and not as grandiose or well-guarded as the hidden tomb — and that something here destroyed one of Xevok’s skeletons — is probably a decoy of some sort and likely contains a trap. As such, they ignore it and investigate the hidden tomb. After debating a good way to test the sarcophagus, they just decide to open it; Torbjorn approaches the sarcophagus and shoves the lid open, breaking the wax seal around it and catching a whiff of stale tomb air. He feels a strange sensation — a feeling of vertigo and light-headedness, perhaps — but the feeling quickly passes. Looking into the sarcophagus, he sees a paper-skinned corpse, well-preserved but clearly quite old. (He suspects that this person was probably naturally preserved due to conditions in the tomb.) The body’s clothes are feminine but are old and threadbare. Of true value is the gold, gem-studded crown upon her head and the silver brooch around her neck. Knowing that Tuulu is closely watching him, he tosses the crown to Tuulu and uses the distraction to wrench her head off while subtly palming her brooch and hiding it in his sleeve. (The others present see it, but Tuulu is too surprised by the crown and aghast at the bodily desecration to notice Torbjorn taking the brooch.) After chiding Torbjorn for desecrating a body that his employer — as Sukai is theoretically his employer now that Igan is dead — will no doubt want intact. When Torbjorn intimates that the crown can just be their secret, Tuulu’s spirits improve significantly as he notes that the sarcophagus and body might have already been like that. He puts the crown in his pack, helps replace the sarcophagus lid, and accompanies the travelers back to the surface.

Having retrieved the skin of the tupilaq as well as Khatun Javach’s head (and a brooch that is likely worth some money), the travelers prepare to leave this camp, although Xevok continues to contemplate how he might steal Igan’s spellbook before they leave the area…

Session 34

Sunday, February 18, 758 BC

Boudica awakens in an alpine forest beside a roaring campfire. Her pain is gone and her wounds are not present. As her eyes adjust to the gloom, she realizes that a pile of furs lies stacked across from her, on the other side of the pile.

A person.

When she addresses the stranger, the pile of furs shifts as a head emerges from the pile. Boudica recognizes the face: Sigrid, the woman whom the travelers met in the Devoured Land and who slew Spicy Hot Dog Man when she took the form of a ravenous wolf. As Sigrid addresses Boudica, she rises from the pile of furs, revealing that she is nude. She paces at the outer edge of the fire light, lithe and sinuous, and as the men of the Devoured Land claim, her eyes are yellow, and she bears toothy maws where human nipples would normally be.

She explains that Boudica is dead, although this is not the afterlife. Souls in the Domains of Dread are not allowed to leave, instead reincarnating into new demiplane denizens indefinitely. Boudica, however, has a greater purpose and so is being offered an opportunity. (Not to mention that Jezzy is still in grave peril, all alone in that secluded catacomb.) While the four totems of Isiksivik have turned their face away from this place, the Wolf is still a force to be revered. If Boudica accepts the Wolf’s bargain, she can return. Boudica asks if this will make her a werewolf like Sigrid, but Sigrid laughs and says it will not; it will only invite a small piece of the Wolf’s essence into herself. Her senses will sharpen and she will gain the perceptive acuity of the wolf.

Boudica thinks this sounds fair, so she agrees.

Sigrid approaches her, cuts into her palm with one of her thumbnails, and smears the blood across Boudica’s forehead as a benediction.

Boudica awakens in the black tomb. The blood rushes in her ears, and she is intensely sore, but alive. Her wounds will require treatment, although some have closed and formed scars. Next to her lies Jezzy, and with Boudica’s newly-acquired senses of hearing an smell, she can tell that Jezzy raggedly breathing with a thready pulse but still alive. The place is suffused with the coppery smell of blood and the scent of voided bowels underneath the damp smell of long-untouched stone.

As Boudica has the chance to examine her surroundings, she notes that she and Jezzy have been dragged from where they fell to the dais upon which the sarcophagus sits. The tattered remains of the two cultists have also been moved there, although they are clearly dead. As for the bear-beast itself, it has flung itself across the Khatun’s sarcophagus and it currently lies there, unmoving.

Boudie invokes a healing spell to awaken Jezzy and then casts another upon herself. Jezzy notices that Boudie smells of heavy musk, almost like an animal — a wolf, perhaps? Boudica explains what transpired, and after they are certain the beast is no longer moving, they take the opportunity to investigate it. Jezzy lights a lantern, noting that the creature (which they presume to be the tupilaq) appears to be a roughly-taxidermized armature, bear hide stretched over bone. Jezzy makes short work of stripping the hide, finding a bear skeleton held together with gut and stuffed with furs and reeds. The bones, as well as the inner surface of the hide, are marked with runes; many of the runes on the bones have been marred by the movement of Jezzy’s tooth bullet. She harvests as many teeth as she can from the composite creature, and then the pair slumps against the sarcophagus to rest.

After spending an hour or so bandaging their wounds and recounting the day’s events, they decide that they ought to leave this place. A careful search reveals that the blocks in the far wall are only loosely-mortared, and could probably be pushed aside. Jezzy takes to scraping out the mortar, while Boudica changes into the form of a polar bear to break through the wall. Before leaving, Jezzy also smashes and dismantles the remains of the tupilaq, to ensure it is fully dead. When they are prepared to leave, Boudica begins smashing through the stone wall. The lantern light reveals the main chamber into which they first entered: to the left is the grand stone door with a stone throne facing it, the throne now empty of its skeletal occupant, while an open doorway yawns to the right, initially unseen because it was too far into the room. Lining the walls are the four skeletal statues, their swords wet with blood.

Meanwhile, after retreating from the tomb complex, Alyonka, Cloy, Gus, Igan, Sukai, Torbjorn, Xevok, one of Xevok’s skeletons, and three of Igan’s bodyguards regroup to plan and determine their next steps. After a brief conversation, Alyonka, Gus, Torbjorn, and Xevok decide to stay at the tent posted at the mouth of the mine in case they hear movement from within. Otherwise, they will stick with the plan to attempt to breach the mine again in the morning.

After close to two hours of waiting, Torbjorn hears activity, as the group becomes aware of a muffled clattering within the mine, accompanied by bear noises. Torbjorn asks if the others heard the noise, and then begins shouting for Boudica and Jezzy as he moves down the tunnel.

Upon hearing Torbjorn’s shouting, Jezzy shouts back, indicating that they’re alive. A quick plan develops: when Torbjorn counts to three, he’ll throw the doors open, and Boudie and Jezzy will make a dash for them. Everyone agrees, and Jezzy climbs upon Boudie’s back to ride out of the catacombs.

When Torbjorn counts to three, Boudie makes a run for it. One of the skeletal statues swipes at her with its sword, but it is a mere glancing blow. However, those present hear shouting deeper in the catacombs as Gennifer and Laurie come running out of the darkness for the open door. Seeing that Gennifer is not going to make it past the threshold in time, Boudie grabs her in her jaws and drags her out of harm’s way. As the skeletons advance, forming a cordon around the entrance, Torbjorn closes the doors.

The travelers are reunited.

After shooing away a curious Igan and Sukai who arrive to investigate all the shouting, the travelers catch up and inform each other of what transpired after they were separated. Boudica is fairly certain she died, and realizes that she was probably dead no longer than ten minutes. Jezzy is concerned that Boudica now cannot leave the Domains of Dread, and that she will die if she ever returns to the Devoured Land. (Hearing of the deal and noticing her wolf musk, Torbjorn notes that Boudica’s eyes have not changed, and he asks if her breasts have changed in the manner of Devoured Land werewolves. She briefly checks, and they have not.) Torbjorn conveys that the skeletal guards are immune to mundane weaponry and lightning, although they have other magical forces they can attempt to use. Despite the language barrier, Alyonka manages to convey to the Weathermay-Foxgrove twins that Zsolt has died.

After discussing whether or not they even wish to remain, given that they are fairly certain they have retrieved the hide of the tupilaq, they decide to remain, both to determine what Igan is going to do, and to interrogate Khatun Javach’s body with speak with dead in the hopes of gathering more information about the Khan. With their plan decided, the travelers rest for the remainder of the day so that they may prepare spells for tomorrow’s trials.

Session 33

Sunday, February 18, 758 BC

Alyonka, Boudica, Gennifer, Gus, Jezzy, Laurie, Torbjorn, Xevok, and Zsolt awaken after a restful night in Igan’s camp. Despite their suspicions that they have stumbled upon some manner of cult, their hosts are generous, and the Isiksivikians in camp appear to have been in the wilderness so long that they have not heard of the news in Golova (and so do not know who the travelers are).

After breakfast, as the travelers are getting ready, one of the Isiksivikians pulls Torbjorn aside. This fellow is a wizard from Golova named Sukai, and he chides Torbjorn, saying that he doesn’t care about Igan’s cultist nonsense, he’s just here for the artifacts — but he recognizes a mercenary company when he sees one, and he suspects Torbjorn and his fellows aren’t part of Igan’s cult. He admonishes Torbjorn, telling him not to screw this up through greed or some hidden agenda, and everybody gets a dandy payday. Understood?

Shortly before they are prepared to disembark into the mine, Igan casts tongues again and pulls Torbjorn aside, noting that the Mother might require a sacrifice. Just so they’re in agreement: Sukai is first on the chopping block, right? Certainly ahead of any of their niches. Torbjorn agrees. Igan notes that he would prefer not to sacrifice Cloy, as the man is very dear to him, but Torbjorn reminds him that the Mother may demand much of us, and Igan acknowledges that he is right. While he has Igan, Torbjorn also asks if they found any precious metals, particularly diamonds. Igan says they didn’t find anything like that, although some of the workmen indicate there are signs of copper deposits further into the mountain. But nothing like the sorts of gems Torbjorn might need for healing purposes.

As they are preparing to go, Alyonka receives a sending from Mizaiq, Khan Yemur’s satyr minstrel. He says, “I believe you know Thomas Parker. We have incarcerated him in Kiiksiugun Colony. No harm will come to him if you present yourselves for processing.” She responds, “How much time do we have?” and softly mutters a curse. (No response from Mizaiq is forthcoming, leading the travelers to speculate that he is not an especially powerful spellcaster.) Explaining the situation to her associates, along with the fact that she is concerned at Thomas’ welfare in a labor camp, she is extremely agitated, but the others say there is nothing to do for now, especially so far from Kiiksiugun Colony. They’ll focus on the current task at hand, and worry about Thomas afterward.

Alyonka, Boudica, Gennifer, Gus, Jezzy, Laurie, Torbjorn, Xevok, and Zsolt then move into the mine, along with Igan, Cloy, Sukai, and Igan’s eight bodyguards. (The rest of the miners and mercenaries stay behind to guard the camp.) Past the tent is a short tunnel of thirty or so feet, terminating in a large door. Twenty feet tall, the stone door is covered in bas relief and locked with some elaborate mechanism, clearly a lock of some kind. The inscriptions and pictures depict this as the tomb of Khatun Javach — although her name is not familiar to those present, they know that “Khatun” is the feminine form of “Khan.”

After some deliberation, Igan maintains his original plan of having Cloy attempt to open the door, given Cloy’s talents as a second-story man. (Although the others had a handful of things to try, they are more than happy to have someone else risk life and limb to open the door.) He carefully strides to the door, inspects it, taps it and otherwise probes it, and then gets to work with his lockpicks. Within a minute or two, the lock whirs open, and the crossbars holding the doors closed retreat into the door jamb.

With that, the group assembles in a loose formation, and prepares to open the doors.

As the torchlight filters into the chamber, it appears to be a large, stone chamber — so large that the light does not filter into the back. Assembled along the walls to the left and right, two on each side, are armatures comprising caribou bones: each stands roughly ten or so feet tall, made of two caribou ribcages stacked one atop the other, topped with a caribou skull. In each of their four hands, they hold bone saws and swords. Directly in front of the assembled party is a skeleton, clad in black robes and sitting upon a stone throne. It gives greeting, and asks them to state their business. Since this is Igan’s show, the assembled party leaves it to him to explain — he begins to explain that he heard of legends of this place, but Torbjorn goads him into speaking of the Mother. He explains that he received visions of the Mother to find this place, and so was instructed to dig. The skeleton bids those assembled to come forward so that all may hear it. It then loudly proclaims, “BEGONE!”

Then all hell breaks loose.

With a sudden rush of air and a swirl of tomb dust, Alyonka, Boudica, Cloy, Gennifer, Igan, Jezzy, Laurie, Sukai, Torbjorn, Zsolt, all three of Xevok’s skeletons, and six of Igan’s bodyguards all disappear. Gus and Xevok feel the wave pass over them, but they strain against it and remain, as do two of Igan’s bodyguards. As the dust settles, the four caribou armatures rattle to life and begin moving into melee. Gus attacks the robed skeleton while Xevok invokes invisibility on both himself and Gus before backing away. (Echoing from somewhere else in the tomb, the staccato burst of gunfire can be heard at regular intervals.) Although Gus is invisible, the caribou sculptures recall where he was and lash out at his position, hitting home and felling him. Seeing no way forward, the two “niches” also begin to back up. Torbjorn, arriving from somewhere outside the tent and running into the corridor, intones a prayer to Thor, summoning a guiding bolt that strikes the robed skeleton, severely injuring it. The caribou sculptures stand at attention as Torbjorn intones a shatter, destroying the skeleton and causing hairline fractures to form among the caribou sculptures, although they are undeterred. They stand at attention, warily standing guard as Torbjorn menaces them with holy magic.

Meanwhile, Alyonka, Cloy, Igan, Sukai, Torbjorn, one of Igan’s bodyguards, and one of Xevok’s skeletons are all deposited outside the tomb at various distances — Alyonka, Igan, and Sukai are nearly a quarter mile away from the camp, among the crags of the Ingik Mountains. Cloy and the bodyguard are closer, somewhere in the range of 700 feet away from camp. (The skeleton is in this same range, but without orders, merely stands at attention.) Torbjorn is lucky, as he is still within the bounds of camp, and immediately runs toward the tent and the open mine, running towards the commotion within.

However, all of those outside see three screaming shapes fall onto the craggy mountains, directly above where the tomb lies. Those closest recognize Zsolt, one of Igan’s guards, and one of Xevok’s skeletons. Having been transported hundreds of feet in the air, none of them survive the fall. (Although Xevok’s skeleton and its equipment are theoretically recoverable.)

Torbjorn and Xevok turn to invoke magic at the skeletal caribou creatures, which focus on them and seem to ignore the cacophony of gunshots elsewhere in the complex. However, the skeletons are distracted as two of Igan’s bodyguards from deeper in the tomb make a run for it and are immediately cut down just outside the entrance. Meanwhile, Gus awakens and retreats, taking shots at the skeletons with his crossbow. The skeletons, however, seem immune to normal weapons as well as Xevok’s lightning. Finally, as the creatures seem content to warily retreat into the tomb (again, strangely ignoring the sounds of firearms echoing from inside the tomb complex), Torbjorn admits that they have to regroup and think out a strategy, particularly since it sounds as though Jezzy (at least) is somewhere in the complex. (Although the shooting stopped a few seconds ago, and does not resume.) The creatures ultimately close the doors, leaving Alyonka, Cloy, Gus, Igan, Sukai, Torbjorn, Xevok, one of Xevok’s skeletons, and three of Igan’s bodyguards to plan and determine their next steps. Boudica, Gennifer, Jezzy, Laurie, one of Xevok’s skeletons, and two of Igan’s bodyguards remain missing.

Meanwhile, Boudica and Jezzy were transported into a different room of the tomb complex, along with two of Igan’s bodyguards. Boudica is the only one who can clearly see the darkened chamber, and she notes that a sarcophagus sits upon a raised dais at one end of the room. More worryingly, there appear to be no exits, and before them stands a taxidermized bear of some sort. It cannot be said to have been taxidermized with particular skill, as it is more a skin loosely bound over a bone frame, and a second bear head has been attached to the chest.

And the thing unleashes a strange roar as it begins moving.

Boudica illuminates it with faerie fire and charges at the creature as she shifts into the form of a polar bear as Jezzy takes shots at the thing with her eyetooth wheellocks, prompting the two bodyguards to draw their blades and enter into melee with the beast. The creature turns, gestures, and utters strange syllables, prompting the faerie fire to disappear. (Although Boudica continues the spell’s mantra in her head and feels that it is still ongoing, but the creature is using some ability to suppress the faerie fire effect.) After the light goes out, the battle becomes increasingly desperate — the creature grabs and mangles the two bodyguards as Boudica moves next to it, the same odd suppression effect returning her to her normal dwarf form. The faerie fire reappears when one of Jezzy’s tooth-bullets ricochets off the creature’s head, but is quickly quenched when the monster mauls Boudica and disrupts her concentration on the spell. Force to retreat and invoke healing prayers, the monster turns its attention to Jezzy, savagely ripping into her. Boudica turns into a giant spider, hoping to grab Jezzy and climb the ceiling to flee the beast’s grasp, but the creature tears into the spider, forcing it back into Boudica’s form, and then mauls her, dropping her unconscious body on the ground. Jezzy, who has been avoiding using the ultimate power of the eyetooth wheellocks lest they inflict some untoward curse upon her, sees how dire the situation has become. As such, she invokes the word “bite” on one of her last shots, sending a tooth ripping through the creature with the knowledge that it begins worming its way into the monster. Before she can see whether or not it worked, however, the monster falls upon her with its teeth and claws.

Everything goes dark.

Session 32

Sunday, February 11, 758 BC

It’s after dinner when the first of the ravens arrives. Slowly, another and another appear, until there are hundreds of them appearing over the course of an hour or so. After Alyonka, Boudica, Gennifer, Gus, Jezzy, Laurie, Torbjorn, Xevok, and Zsolt debate what to do about them, Boudica decides to speak with them. She steps outside of Leomund’s tiny hut, and after feeding the ravens and convincing them that she won’t harm them, she invokes speak with animals to ask the ravens a few questions. (Torbjorn follows, having a few questions of his own he wishes her to ask.) Despite being fairly intelligent animals, they cannot answer most of her questions — they don’t understand her question about the Raven deity, for example, not having a concept of deities themselves — but they manage to shed some light on some things. They are here because they understand that these travelers are here to change things, and they wish to assist them. When she asks about the bundles of clothes they’ve found, some of them having evidence of ravens lurking about, they answer that some ravens wear clothes, the same as they do. Likewise, when she asks how the ravens knew to expect them, they don’t rightly know. They suspect the ravens who wear clothes probably told them the information. At Boudica’s request, they offer to inform her when another raven who wears clothes arrives.

The travelers eventually retire for the night, their camp now including the nine humanoids in Leomund’s tiny hut, a dozen sled dogs, three skeletons, and hundreds of ravens roosting in a semicircle outside the tiny hut. Since the sled dogs and the skeletons have to remain outside Leomund’s tiny hut, Alyonka, Boudica, Gennifer, Gus, Jezzy, Laurie, Torbjorn, Xevok, and Zsolt decide on watches henceforth: Torbjorn and Xevok take first watch, Zsolt and the Weathermay-Foxgroves take the second watch, Alyonka and Boudica take the third watch, and Gus and Jezzy will take fourth watch. Around midnight, just before the watches shift, Torbjorn sees another raven join the rest, this one investigating the tiny hut more inquisitively than the other ravens. When he steps outside to investigate, one of the ravens approaches, squawking at him. He gives the raven an inquisitive look, then gestures to his own clothing. The raven caws something Torbjorn interprets as an affirmation, and moves toward the new raven. It steps out of the crowd to greet him, and when he asks it a question, the raven begins to shift and change, swiftly taking the form of a nude Isiksivikian woman. He has never met her before, but notes that her eyes are dark and she is slight where the other Isiksivikians trend toward stockier frames to weather the long winter. Giving no introduction and refusing Torbjorn’s outer coat, she notes that if the travelers wish to meet some “new friends,” they ought to head to an inn called The Dress and Lamp in the village of Suria, about a week’s travel east of Itok. Torbjorn asks her a few questions, whereupon she asks for his coat as she clearly did not anticipate staying here this long. He asks what brings her here, and she notes that as outsiders, they might be a force of change that may finally remove the darkness from this land. She does not know of the gods; the gods turned their backs on this land long ago, and she knows of no one who has spoken to Raven in generations. She also confirms that the clothing bundles belong to her and her kin, although she further notes that not all of them do — there are many shapechangers in this land, not all of them ravenkind. With nothing further to discuss, she returns Torbjorn’s coat to him, turns back into her raven form, and takes flight.

The rest of the night is uneventful. By the next morning, ominous storm clouds have gathered. Over breakfast, Torbjorn informs the others of his encounter with the raven-woman in the night, and they make note of Suria as a destination after investigating this mine south of Itok. As the travelers are ready to leave, the storm hits — a terrible blizzard, during which visibility is reduced to a mere five feet or so. The ravens take wing and leave before the blizzard hits, and Boudica leaves the tiny hut to turn into a polar bear to huddle with the dogs and ensure they don’t freeze in the heavy blizzard.

The blizzard only lasts three hours or so, and after such time, the travelers break camp and continue on their way. The flocks of ravens rejoin them shortly thereafter. Apart from crossing paths with a lone polar bear around noon — the beast gives the large, loud party a wide berth — travel is uneventful.

About an hour or so after making camp and getting settled for the night, a creature comes loping across the icy plains. Twice the size of a man, it is wiry and covered in sparse hair. It sniffs around, heading toward the campsite, grumbling to itself in the tongue of the giants. (Torbjorn, being the only one to understand it, registers that it thinks it smells humans to eat.) Xevok instantly recognizes the creature as an ice troll, which he only knows because their hearts can be consumed or alchemically prepared. They decide to engage the creature.

The creature is surprised when beset on all sides by the sudden appearance of the travelers emerging from Leomund’s tiny hut, as well as the flocks of ravens that surge to attack it. Although it radiates extreme cold, several of the combatants get into melee range with it while the others hammer it with spells; the ice troll is down within seconds, having only had one opportunity to swipe at Boudica in polar beat form. They set it alight with magical fire, and Torbjorn moves to cut out its heart and eat it. To the amusement of the rest of the party, Torbjorn devours the heart raw, tearing at the leathery muscle with his teeth. He eventually manages to consume the whole thing, and almost immediately feels energized — his aches and pains from the day’s journey soothe, and he feels wired despite the fact that it’s nearly time to sleep for the night.

So it goes.

The travelers bed down for the night. In the middle of the night, Alyonka and Boudica notice that the dogs seem agitated, so they notify the others and Boudica goes out in the midst of the dogs to keep watch. (When she casts speak with animals, she only learns that they smell something “wrong,” like a dog or wolf but somehow not.) They are quickly ambushed by an enormous white wolf — now well-known to the travelers as a winter wolf — that spews ice-cold breath at Boudica and the dogs around her. Two dogs are frozen solid and three others collapse, immediately going into seizures, but the travelers rush out of Leomund’s tiny hut to engage the wolf. It never even gets a chance to flee before it is felled with sword and spell, finally being annihilated by Alyonka’s fireball. Although they are subsequently able to resuscitate three of the dogs, the two frozen dogs cannot be saved. (Xevok briefly considers skinning them and reanimating their skeletons, but given that they are Gennifer and Laurie’s sled dogs, he thinks better of it.) The excitement complete, the travelers return to bed.

In the early morning, while Gus and Jezzy are on watch, they hear a whisper on the wind, saying, “You’re going to die naked and alone out here.” There is no obvious source, and no one about.

The travelers awaken on the morning of Tuesday, February 13, ready to continue their journey. The travelers they use water walk to safely traverse two frozen rivers, return to the Khan’s Road (their map suggests it’s the road between Itok and the village where Nana Nakii resides), and pass a pack of three dire wolves, who deign to ignore them before finally coming to the end of their traveling day. A blizzard hits around dinner time, prompting Boudica to again turn into a polar bear and again spend the storm with the sled dogs. The storm abates just before midnight, whereupon Boudica returns to Leomund’s tiny hut.

More ravens arrive in the night, only a few hours before the dogs again seem nervous during the last watch. Gus and Jezzy awaken the others and move to investigate; this time, they’re ready for the winter wolf when it emerges, and slay it before it can harm anyone. (They also take its pelt, which is in somewhat better shape than the last winter wolf they encountered.) An hour or so after they break camp in the morning, they spot a group of three polar bears, who give the large party a wide berth.

Around midday, the travelers arrive outside Itok. The ravens leave when they do so, apparently having just accompanied them to something approaching a settlement. These days, Itok is abandoned and crusted in a rime of ice. However, smoke and other evidence of activity is present, and a couple of guards watch the road. Although they do not bear Golovan colors, Ezraite icons, or the typical patchwork of hides and bone weapons the druids carry, the travelers decide to avoid the village as they’ve already given Itok enough trouble. They instead head a mile or so north to reorient their search to their “tomb,” although they deign not to enter the dragon’s den as it is a haunted place so far as they are concerned. (Jezzy, however, notes that the dragon is not around.) They then begin heading due south, figuring it should take roughly a day and a half to travel twelve leagues.

Shortly after they begin heading south, they are met by a large contingent of guards from the town. The man who speaks for them — evidently using the tongues spell — sounds well-to-do and appears to be foreign, as evinced when he removes his muff to reveal a waxed moustache and pale jawline. A jocular man, he asks about their business in this area, as he and his associates haven’t seen many travelers come through. Jezzy is relatively curt throughout the affair, being exceptionally suspicious of just about everyone they meet. However, she apologizes when she’s certain he’s just asking out of genuine curiosity, explaining that they’ve merely had a series of bad encounters with fellow travelers, and that they once died in the nearby cave; they’re not going to investigate it themselves, but he’s welcome to poke around, as the dragon is gone for the moment. He understands their trepidation, under the circumstances, noting that the roads are dangerous. (He is interested in the dragon, however, having heard they were extinct.) He further reveals that they’re on a forage and resupply mission themselves, but the conversation does not last long enough for them to find out much more about him. The travelers continue on their journey.

Having descended out of the mountains, the travelers discover another half-buried bundle of clothes as they are preparing to make camp. Jezzy leaves a day’s rations in the bundle before they make their camp a slight distance away.

The night is uneventful, although the travelers awaken to phantom wolf tracks around their campsite, and the travelers continue south on the morning of Thursday, February 15. The day passes uneventfully, and by the end of the day, they estimate that they should arrive at the mine in Olga’s tarokka reading. However, no sign of a mine is found when they arrive at their rough destination. As such, when they make camp this evening, Alyonka attempts a tarokka reading to discern the truth of the mine and the creature they seek, using the vague notes she recorded from her dream the first night she acquired the tarokka deck. Arranging the cards in a basic cross, her tarokka reading is as follows:

  • Representing the focus of the reading, Alyonka first draws the Six of Swords, The Berserker, indicating that whatever they seek is possibly the subject or cause of a truly awful battle.
  • As for the past of the object, she next draws the Six of Stars, The Evoker, indicating that the subject of their search has its origins in an obsession that led to disaster.
  • The present of their target is represented by the Two of Stars, The Diviner, possibly representing their preparations, or the preparations of the miners.
  • As for the future of their search, she draws The Raven of the greater deck of fate, indicating that the future smiles upon them as they secure an ally or source of information in their search.
  • The outcome is more in doubt, however, as she draws The Marionette of the greater deck of fate, indicating that a potent pawn (them? the miners? the creature?) holds a hidden agenda.

With no clear location to search, the travelers prepare for dinner and to continue their search in the morning. However, a few hours after dinner, their camp is discovered by two Isiksivikian outdoorsmen, who seem interested in the dogs but perturbed by the three guards standing completely still outside the white dome (which they take to be a mound of snow or ice). As they investigate the camp, Jezzy steps from Leomund’s tiny hut, which seems to surprise the outdoorsmen, who seem to regard the travelers as spirits of some sort, much to Jezzy’s chagrin. As Jezzy becomes increasingly annoyed by these travelers, Torbjorn intervenes, stepping outside the tiny hut as Jezzy returns inside. Torbjorn asks if they happen to have seen a camp in the area, and the outdoorsmen reveal that they spotted an encampment in the mountains, roughly two days to the northeast. They avoided the place, but know it exists.

Although the Hexad offers the two travelers food, they quickly continue on their way, disturbed by the tiny hut and the strange travelers that emerge from it.

The rest of the night passes uneventfully, and the travelers head northeast on the morning of Friday, February 16. They spy the two outdoorsmen’s tracks from the night before, and follow them a ways before the snows finally devour them.

Around midday, as they fully enter the mountains again, they spot a shadowy figure lurking around the fringes of their assembled band: the wispy, red-eyed form of an undead shadow. They decide to ignore the thing since it seems content to leave them alone, but through Zsolt, Laurie asks if they’re going to do something about it. When they refuse, she rushes at it, drawing her Parthian rapier. When she enters into melee with it, it manages to evade her sword strike, but the other travelers join in the fray and quickly discorporate the incorporeal monstrosity. Continuing to the northeast, they continue their trek through the mountains.

A couple of hours after noon, Torbjorn realizes they are being followed by two winter wolves, keeping a distance and camouflaged by the snowy mountains. He points this out to the others, but his movement alerts the wolves, and they move to flee. Alyonka turns and blasts them with scorching rays, and although she manages to wound the beasts, they flee, letting the travelers continue on their way. Jezzy still does not sense the presence of the dragon, which is not nearly as comforting as it sounds.

At the end of the traveling day, they reach the camp. Noting that the guards have the same loadout as the guards in Itok, they suspect some level of connection. Torbjorn addresses the guards, noting that they’re present to seek “our mother,” but the guard has no idea what he is talking about. (And in fact, begins summoning additional guards to watch this encounter, just in case it turns sour.) Torbjorn further asks about the mine, and despite the fact that the group can hear faint tooling sounds from one of the larger tents abutting the mountain, the guard denies there’s a mine in the area. Jezzy notes that there is something within that will kill them all, but the guard is having none of it. He makes it relatively clear that is will turn bad unless they retreat and let the camp alone, but he says he will speak to his boss when he returns. (The guard is similarly cagey about the timing of this event, but notes that the boss will be back “in a couple of days.”) Not wanting to cause an incident, the travelers retreat and post themselves about a mile away in the tiny hut. Jezzy camps outside in case someone approaches but is as upset by the tiny hut as the nomads seemed to be yesterday.

While they wait, a pack of wolves passes through the area (but ignores the camp) around dinner time. Around the time they seek to bed down for the night, two wolves approach the camp and watch — probably with more intellect and purpose than one might normally expect of a wolf. They similarly regard Jezzy, the tiny hut, and the sled dogs, deciding to move on after only a few minutes.

Early the following morning, Saturday, February 17, the travelers hear a distant wolf howl echo through the camp. The rest of the day is uneventful, apart from activity in the camp and the watchful eyes of the guards keeping the camp in view. In the early evening, a dozen or so travelers enter camp. After getting settled, nine of them trek up the mountain to meet with the travelers.

It appears to be the moustachioed gentlemen and his personal guard of eight. He casts tongues, and introduces himself as Igan Crynecca. One point of clarification: did his guards correctly report that Torbjorn mentioned “our mother?” Torbjorn confirms this, and Igan is overjoyed to learn he found another Delver. He notes that the guards in camp are hired from Golova, and don’t know about their affiliation, but these eight with him are his “niches.” (It appears to be a rank; Igan refers to himself as a “fissure,” and seems to regard Torbjorn as a fellow fissure and his companions as his niches.) He notes he is from Darkon, but is unfamiliar with this Rottingkroner that Torbjorn mentions. (He also comments that he and his associates investigated the dragon’s lair and actually found treasure therein. They were especially surprised to find a dragon’s corpse and the corpse of a great white wolf inside; it appears as though it must have been quite a battle.) Igan briefly takes Torbjorn aside to speak with him in private, apparently convinced that Torbjorn is a fellow devotee of the Hated Mother. He seems to regard the appearance of a fellow Delver as a great sign, especially since the workers evidently discovered a door in the mine while he was away. Returning to speak with the others, he invites everyone back to the mining camp.

After explaining to the guards that these are friends of his, he invites them to stay in his tent for the night. He introduces them to one of his fellows, a half-elf named Cloy, noting that Cloy is not part of the same organization but is reasonably trustworthy. (But still, keep quiet about their full purpose here. Although Cloy speaks the same language as Igan, so he cannot understand them without tongues or similar magic.) After dinner, he takes Torbjorn aside to ask about the dreams: formless dreams led Igan here, as he feels something beckoning in the dark. Torbjorn lies, saying that he has similar dreams, but also senses the presence of something else in the dark, a dangerous monster whose hide is proof against magic. Igan is glad to know of this, since he’s a magician, and will have to keep it in mind when they enter the door in the mine tomorrow.

Despite the potential bad news, Igan is elated at the presence of what he presumes to be fellows in his same organization, and seems elated to tackle the door tomorrow, again suspecting this joining is a fortuitous event and a portent of their success. Meanwhile, while the the party is pleased that Torbjorn’s deception has thus far gone well, and that they will have backup when investigating this strange buried door tomorrow, they are now concerned that they find themselves in the middle of an encampment of Golovan mercenaries and foreign cultists.

Tomorrow will no doubt be an interesting day.

Session 31

Saturday, February 10, 758 BC

As Alyonka, Boudica, Gus, Jezzy, Torbjorn, and Xevok prepare to continue their journey, Boudica asks if Xevok might be able to identify the coin she received from her brother in last night’s vision. Although he doesn’t have identify prepared, he doesn’t need it, as he recognizes the style of coin: the Infernal script upon it marks it as having been minted in Minauros, and so it is likely a soul coin, representing one soul forged into this form by the archdevil Mammon. They are often used as currency in Hell, particularly in spots where various planes interact.

Through examination, the travelers also determine that the two sending stones they recovered yesterday are not keyed to one another. Given that they lack the resources to re-key the sending stones to one another, and that they would allow someone to more easily scry on their progress, they deign to bury the stones and leave them behind.

Before breaking camp, Torbjorn invokes a sending to Bazshar, warning her to flee Golova. She acknowledges, and indicates she and Thomas will gather their things and leave the city shortly.

The travelers continue along the north road. The road swiftly leaves the coast, heading out into the plains. After traveling for six hours, the travelers encounter a group of four brown bears, two adults and two cubs. Boudica notes that they appear thin, but no less than to be expected for the season. The mother seems to be skittish at the travelers’ approach, so they give her and her cubs a wide berth.

Roughly an hour later, the travelers spot a mound of snow off the road; investigation reveals another cache of winter clothes. Boudica shifts into the form of a dire wolf and sniffs around, finding human scents mixed with the smell of birds. (Ravens, she thinks?) Torbjorn wonders if this is a message, and if the clothes are to be worn. However, he finds the clothes to be built for someone much slighter than he, so he and Boudica put them back.

After traveling for another hour, the travelers make camp. They are now only a few miles from the northern coast, and although it is not illuminated, the nightly aurora reveals the shadows of a settlement to the north. Torbjorn invokes another sending to Bazshar, checking on their progress; she says it will be several days before they would meet the travelers again, but they are heading east in any case. Xevok conjures Leomund’s tiny hut, and the travelers rest for the night.

Just before the travelers are prepared to break camp, two fur-clad outdoorsmen begin to head towards the mound of the tiny hut, but noticing the armor-clad skeletons posted outside, they decide to give the tiny hut a wide berth. The travelers have breakfast without incident, although once they prepare to leave, they notice bear tracks around their camp. They likewise see a small figurine on the road; when Boudica investigates, she notes it is a bear figurine carved from ice. It does not appear magical or adorned with runes, but a brief examination reveals that it does not melt, even when exposed to the warmth of a humanoid body. She pockets the figurine, and the travelers continue on their way. (Xevok also reasserts control over his skeletons, as he does every morning. Strangely, he increasingly notices the feeling of being watched whenever he does so.)

Before long, they arrive at the settlement: a tangle of buildings and decaying factories perched upon a north-facing cliff overlooking the sea. (As they approach, Boudica invokes pass without trace to ensure they are not seen.) Few of the buildings appear functional, instead resembling skeletons with broken windows and collapsing roofs. Only one warehouse still looks intact and occupied; although it lacks windows, its doors are in place, and smoke can be seen coming from one of the vents in the roof. In the fashion of Foundry, the buildings are stripped of color by persistent winter winds, but what splashes of color remain suggest the buildings were once garishly painted with reds, greens, and whites.

A quick survey of the site indicates that there is only one set of entrances: a set of double doors, perhaps large enough for a vehicle or mount, and a single door appropriate for someone of roughly human size. After a brief discussion, they decide the best way to approach this problem is with a scout. Boudie will turn into a rat and squeeze under the door while the others wait in a nearby building, ready to assist in the event of trouble. As such, the travelers find vantage points in a nearby building to wait while Boudica turns into a rat — still moving under the effects of pass without trace, of course — and squeezes under the double doors to gain access to the warehouse.

Once inside, Boudica notes the interior is completely dark, although her rat eyes can still make out shapes in the gloom. She notes the presence of a trip wire across the doorway, easily avoidable as a tiny rat, and notes that she is within a large, open area resembling a stable. Mechanical-seeming caribou stand motionless in the stalls, and a nearby sleigh is haphazardly parked in a corner of the area. (The thick layer of dust upon it suggests it has not been used in some time.) Although there are doors in various directions, Boudica decides to head in the direction where she hears mechanical noises. She starts creeping down the hallway, coming to an intersection where the sound seems to get louder. She moves to turn right—

She only has a split-second to register the flash of three arcane sigils before she feels the magic erupt from them. One of them appears to have no effect, while another blossoms in an eruption of arcane fire, and still another produces a sharp, ear-ringing tone. She is immediately blasted out of rat form, her hair and clothing singed and her ears ringing and bleeding. As she hears the noises nearby stop, and footsteps begin walking toward her position, she scrambles to run back to the door. Hustling as fast as her legs can carry her, she has the presence of mind to avoid the trip-wire, but when she tries the double-doors, she finds they’re locked. She has to shapeshift into a rat again to escape, and she squeezes beneath the doors to freedom.

Meanwhile, the travelers have been breathlessly waiting. When they heard the explosion, Gus and Torbjorn move to take positions around the door, while Xevok sends the skeletons for backup. They are prepared to attack whatever comes through the doors, but stop short when they realize it’s a pink rat, and must be Boudica. As she runs into the snow, everyone hears the footsteps arrive in the stables and stop. Torbjorn decides to knock, and a metallic voice loudly announces that they’re investigating a security breach, and to return later. That seems good enough for him, so the group reconvenes (and Boudica returns to dwarf form) and rests for an hour, largely so Boudica can invokes healing spells and bind her wounds.

Refreshed, the travelers return to the door — the smaller one, this time — and Torbjorn again knocks. Several sets of footsteps arrive, and the tinny, metallic voice returns after a moment. They ask for the travelers to state their business — Torbjorn explains that they have business here — and the voice announces that it will open the door. If it sees more than one person, those within will open fire. Torbjorn agrees as he ushers the others out of sight.

The creature that opens the door appears to be a facsimile of a gnome, a construct comprising metalwork and wood. Torbjorn notes several of them have crowded behind the first, and all of them have open panels on their chests from which wands protrude. Satisfied that Torbjorn is presently alone, they order him to remove all weapons and spell components (again threatening to kill him if he refuses to comply), and then invite him inside.

After searching him to confirm that he disarmed, they lead him deeper. Although he cannot see in the gloom, the gnomes safely lead him through a hallway, turning right and then emerging into a larger space. Torbjorn is addressed by a gruff voice who asks him to state his business. The presence, introducing himself as Norias Steelforge, is initially paranoid that Torbjorn is an assassin sent to kill him — particularly since someone among his group clearly set off the perimeter defenses — but he quickly warms up to the priest, given that his manner seems unlike someone loyal to Khan Yemur. After one of the gnomes lights a torch, Norias is revealed as an old, old dwarf with a long white beard. He is armed and armored, wearing a chrome breastplate painted cherry red, and it has a shoulder attachment that looks suspiciously like some magical musket, pointed directly at Torbjorn. Norias also bears a bracer on his right arm that appears to be some manner of holster for a wand, while he has a shield strapped to his left arm that has a white plate attached to the front giving off a very faint glow. Since Torbjorn has noted he has friends, Norias agrees to speak with all of them, but he’ll meet them outside.

After Torbjorn is led outside, he informs the others, and they wait briefly. Norias and several of his gnomish constructs accompany him outside. He reveals that he was once Khan Yemur’s weaponsmith, and is old enough to have lived before the destruction of Golova and the coming of the Stormwall. (Although he barely recalls his mountain home to the south anymore, and certainly does not recall its name.) After the Ezraites came, Khan Yemur moved his operations back to Golova and forgot about old Norias. The dwarf suspects Khan Yemur will send assassins to kill Norias sooner or later.

More notably, he reveals that Khan Yemur is Khan Chago, the very first Khan of Golova. He doesn’t know how the Khan does it, but he undertook some manner of sorcery that allows him to project himself as a spirit form. (Norias refers to this ability as coming from the study and manipulation of “orgones.”) He doesn’t know if the Khan’s physical form still lives, or if he is some manner of disembodied spirit that jumps among hosts, but every Khan has been the same man.

While Norias hates the Khan, he refuses to go fight him — he knows the Khan will come for him sooner or later, and rather than going to the Khan’s seat of power to unseat him, he wants to be ready in his own stronghold when it happens. But if a bunch of outlanders want to take on the Khan, Norias is all for it. He commissioned a weapon a while ago to deal with the Khan, and since they seem genuine in their desires, he’s willing to give it to them. Norias briefly steps inside his workshop, returning with a wand. It appears to be a metal rod with a spiraling length of wire around it, topped with a crystal. He claims it is an orgonic disruptor, and it can disrupt the Khan’s orgonic form. They’ll still have to figure out how to deal with the Khan permanently, and the Khan’s strong will might allow him to resist the effect for an extended period, but a successful attack with this should allow them to destroy the Khan’s orgonic form. Jezzy takes the wand.

Regarding the travelers’ tarokka reading, Norias thinks he knows where some of the references are located. He doesn’t know about their tomb, but “the secret of your enemy’s heart, imprisoned and entombed within the earth, guarded by three women at the head of an iron snake,” probably refers to Kiiksiugun Colony, the occultum mines in eastern Isiksivik. The Khan often holds political prisoners and important documents there, so it’s possible they’ll find something. (The “iron snake” likely refers to the railroad, while the “three women” are probably the Khan’s Brain Trust.) Likewise, “a mill where souls are bound and embodied, you will find an army if you but break their chains,” that is, “bound in the coils of an iron snake,” likely references the warforged factory in south central Isiksivik. It’s along the railroad, and so is easy to access.

With nothing further to give them, Norias says he’s returning to his workshop. He bids them farewell, and says they’re welcome to camp out in the buildings if they so wish. Norias and the gnome constructs return inside, leaving the travelers in the courtyard.

After some discussion, they decide to head southeast to find their “tomb” and undertake the next component of their mission to kill the Khan. As they begin leaving the warehouses, however, they spy movement to the south, as something is heading this way. Torbjorn’s sharp eyes note it appears to be a dogsled team, heading this way. They are willing to wait and see what it is, and despite their heavy winter clothing, the travelers recognize the garments of Gennifer, Laurie, and Zsolt. (Xevok, suspecting that the monster-hunters won’t approve, orders his skeletons to hide in the snow.) When the travelers arrive, they give greeting, and Zsolt asks if they have an hour to discuss matters. Everyone agrees and moves to one of the abandoned buildings to talk. Gennifer retrieves a scroll and a small clay model of a ziggurat from her pack. She intones the spell on the scroll, touches the ziggurat to her head, and she can suddenly make herself understood by those present. Having invoked the tongues dispell to talk directly with the travelers — reasoning that it will be easier to speak with them directly rather than through a translator, and noting that spell scrolls are cheap in Golova — she sends Laurie to keep watch on the road while she discusses matters.

Gennifer and her sister believe the darklord of this domain is Khan Yemur — which the travelers confirm with their own recent experiences. (Although she is disappointed to learn that they already knew this, the travelers indicate her input is still useful. They also take the opportunity to drop every Khan-based pun they can contemplate, which amuses Gennifer despite the seriousness of the conversation. Or “khanversation,” as the case may be.) They then continue discussing what they have learned over the past few days, including the tarokka reading that led them here in the first place. (Although Alyonka does not go into the details, it comes out that she is Vistani, and Zsolt seems excited to learn they are kin — although he is swift to sheepishly note that they’re distant kin. He notes that her family comes from Barovia, and isn’t one he knows particularly well; they are insular even by Vistani standards.)

Gennifer seems especially interested in the reading, “A dozen leagues south of your tomb lies a mine, where seekers hope to unearth their Mother. They instead awaken a beast whose hide is proof against your foe’s magic.” When they note that their “tomb” is likely the caves outside Itok, Gennifer notes that she and her sister heard of a creature called a tupilaq that is said to haunt the region. The beasts are quite rare, said to be conjured by sorcerers for specific tasks. Depending upon the tales, they are invisible expert hunters, or potent monsters that can potentially be controlled by a more powerful sorcerer than their own master, or specialized mage-killers. They remain undescribed in the legends, either because they kill their targets or they are invisible. Gennifer and Laurie have been interested in seeing if the legends are true, and so were hoping to head that way anyway. As such, it seems decided that the whole group will head southeast towards Itok. When they are ready to travel again, Xevok commands his skeletons to rise; although Gennifer and Laurie don’t seem particularly pleased by the presence of undead — and it makes the dogs skittish — they are willing to take all the allies they can find. The group begins to head southeast.

The journey is uneventful, and the travelers make camp in the early evening. The decision is made to hold watches, as the skeletons and dogs will remain outside Leomund’s tiny hut, and so the travelers prepare for the evening. Before too long, Torbjorn sends another sending to Bazshar, but finds he cannot establish contact. As such, he invokes another sending to Thomas, asking what happened. Thomas responds, “We were split up. Lost in a blizzard. I had to return to Golova. Currently in hiding.” Although Alyonka is slightly skeptical of Thomas’ ability to survive at all in the wilderness, this seems a plausible enough explanation. With nothing further to be done on this matter, the travelers bed down for the night.


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