Monday, Mörsugur 1, Fifth year since the siege of Nornrik
1st day of the Second Head
Alyonka and Jizzbins find themselves in a clearing amidst rose bushes. Before them stands a towering figure, a cluster of thorny vines in the shape of a towering man, vines even forming a handlebar mustache. It leers and laughs, proclaiming in a nasally voice that it has them in its clutches. It lashes out at them with thorny vines, and although they try to attack it with arrows and spells, they are unable to do any lasting harm to it.
They awaken with a start, and a strange feeling that things are… off. They can’t quite put their fingers on it.
Alyonka, Boudie, Jizzbins, Torbjorn, and Xevok, as well as the cat Cassiel, awaken to the Ynnian evening and prepare to continue their march toward the chess board with the massive chess set. Strangely, Torbjorn has changed during their stay — his eyes are completely white, his ears are pointed like an elf’s ears, his nails are made of steel, and his arms and legs have all grown about a foot.
Likewise, Jizzbins notes a strange whimpering coming from Nuggets, his mouse. When he takes the mouse out of his pocket, he doesn’t immediately notice the creature’s numerous needle teeth, because its eyes have grown to be three inches in diameter, warped painfully out of its sockets. Not wanting Nuggets to suffer, he crushes the mouse. Cassiel claims he could have done it a lot more painlessly, and then asks if he can eat the remains.
As they continue their discussions, something rustles from the meat bushes. A humanoid figure with features that vaguely resemble a canine, albeit with white fur and needle teeth, crashes through the underbrush. Introductions are made, and the dog-man introduces himself as Gus T. T. Showbiz. (That’s Gus Theodore Theodore Showbiz.) Gus indicates he is a similarly lost traveler, and so Alyonka, Boudie, Jizzbins, Torbjorn, and Xevok agree to accompany him on their journey to find an exit from the Gardens of Ynn.
As they are talking, a massive creature emerges from the underbrush. It is vaguely draconic, albeit with large eyebrows and strange buck-teeth. It bears human hands and burning eyes. It roars challenge, but apparently thinks better of its choices when it counts nearly two dozen combatants. It instead strafes the king with heat rays from its burning eyes, and while the group returns fire, the beast manages to flee.
The Queen orders her Pawns after it, and so they begin cutting their way through the fleshy underbrush. The travelers follow.
The group emerges in a cemetery, the shattered ground bearing several chasms. (They appear to be bottomless; yawning pits filled with swirling mists.) Throughout the cemetery, skeletons play instruments — bone flutes, rib xylophones, that sort of thing. The travelers wish to continue traveling with the chess set, and since it would be hard for them to navigate the bottomless chasms, the group decides to turn back and attempt another path. Jizzbins flips a copper to a nearby skeleton, who nods appreciatively.
Backtracking to the flesh garden and its minty censers, the group tries to take a path to circumvent the chasms. After cutting their way through hedgerows and fences, they arrive at a place where the ground is broken, revealing massive, turning gears. It is not clear what this machinery does, but the ground here is unstable, pitching back and forth like waves upon the ocean. The group has no desire to navigate this, either, so they turn back. Alyonka lingers, however, deciding that she wishes to destroy the gears — she conjures a scorching ray and several rays of frost before Boudie notices she’s missing and returns to retrieve her. She convinces Alyonka to accompany them and to investigate elsewhere.
Returning to the meat gardens, they take one last chance to find an easily-navigable location. After a brief sojourn through backyards and hedges, they find themselves in a clearing. In the middle of the clearing is a wire cage, overgrown and smelling faintly of ozone. A low hum sounds in the air.
However, none of these features are nearly so interesting as the door set into a fence. It is slightly ajar, and written on it in chalk are the words, “The Physical Realm, By Way Of Ynn.” The travelers thank the chess set for their assistance, although the king seems perturbed that they’re leaving so soon after planning to accompany them to the chess set. The female knight who spoke to Boudie yesterday steps forward, to ask if she truly means to go. Boudie is a little bewildered, as she didn’t think their relationship had progressed to such a point, but she rolls with it. She says they might meet again some day, and she offers a lock of her hair to the knight. The knight, in turn, cuts a length of ivy and braids it into Boudie’s beard. Boudie gives the knight a demure kiss on the cheek, which seems to rile the rest of the court.
The travelers take that as their cue to leave.
Passing through the door, they find themselves in a cave with a cultivated fungus forest. The air is cold here, and they hear low talking from elsewhere in the cave complex. Closing the door behind them, they decide to announce themselves so as not to surprise the inhabitants of this cavern. Jizzbins deigns to stay behind and wait.
They emerge to find a dark-skinned, matronly woman of indeterminate age with three dark-skinned men of varying ages — one young, one middle-aged, one older. There are also a couple of polar bears lounging in the room.
Although initially alarmed, the travelers make introductions, explaining that they emerged through a door from another world. Introductions are made, and the woman introduces herself as Irmiq. (Torbjorn gives them a machete as a gift.) The three men are her husbands: Kana, Poka, and Ilak. She recognizes Boudie as some manner of druid, implying she has similarly taken the mantle of druid. When asked, she explains that this land is Isiksivik. Once free, it now labors under some terrible curse. The Old Ways are dying, as the church has oppressed those who follow them. The church, in turn, has been gutted by the city of Golova, the so-called “Cosmic City,” which has rejected either religion in lieu of progress and industry. They have similarly driven the native peoples off their ancestral lands in their hunger for a substance they call occultum. Golova was destroyed by catastrophe once, a couple of hundred years ago, but they rebuilt, even more sprawling than before.
The old road to the occultum mines is even less traveled than it used to be, as now “an iron serpent” runs between the city and the mines, taking passengers and prisoners into their depths.
As for the Devoured Land or Rottingkroner or the Gardens of Ynn, Irmiq and her husbands have not heard of these places before. They recognize, however, that sometimes foreign travelers come to this cursed land.
When they go to investigate the door and retrieve Jizzbins, they find the door is gone.
They share a meal of roots, meal, and fungus before sending the travelers on their way, down into the mountain pass to the village. (Boudie also manages to pet one of the bears in the cavern, which seems to take to her.) Itok seems a small trading village in the pass, supported by merchants’ caravans as well as herding. (They keep goats and some variety of diminutive caribou, remiscent of Underdark rothé.) The travelers sell off the fey music box and the gold filigree lantern for 400gp total, and Jizzbins trades his arrows for bolts for his new crossbow.
While at the local inn, conversation comes about regarding Alyonka and Jizzbins’ newfound interest in natural preservation. Alyonka and Jizzbins set about explaining the strange dream they had this morning, including a helpful illustration from Jizzbins. Indeed, they end up attracting a crowd interested in the idea they are attempting to express.
There is a momentary pause in the conversation when Alyonka, Gus, Jizzbins, and Xevok all freeze. They find themselves in the midst of the battle with the thorny vine man, continuing from where they left. It swipes at Alyonka, then braves Alyonka and Jizzbins’ strikes to swipe at Gus and Xevok. They attack it, with Alyonka and Xevok electrifying it with witch bolts. Then, the vision ends, and their minds return to the inn. Only a moment has passed.
Boudie and Torbjorn begin to get more suspicious.
In the course of conversation, they learn the village lives in fear: a group of unnaturally large wolves have been sighted near the village, usually at night. The people expect trouble soon.
While Gus and Xevok remain at the inn, Alyonka and Torbjorn begin to investigate the wolf tracks while Boudie and Jizzbins head back to the druids’ cave to inquire about these wolves. They are met by a pack of wolves waiting outside, but they offer food and are allowed entry. When they inquire about the wolves, Irmiq says that she would have to pray on these matters before deciding what to do — but perhaps these strange travelers are already the answer she would seek. Despite being a devotee of Amarok, the wolf god of the arctic, she suspects these wolves preying on the people of this village have nothing to do with her god. They inquire whether they might be werewolves, but she does not know. Content with her explanation, they return to the village, although Jizzbins admonishes the druids to plant some briars.
Meanwhile, Alyonka and Torbjorn notice that the wolf tracks are probably double the size of normal wolves. They estimate the pack to number perhaps half a dozen, although they cannot be certain.
When Boudie and Jizzbins return, they examine the tracks. Jizzbins confirms that there are six of these creatures, and they flank the village in ways that seem too deliberate and intelligent for mere wolves. He suspects not werewolves, but winter wolves as the cause of the disturbance. They decide to investigate further: Alyonka, Boudie, and Jizzbins will follow the tracks and see where they lead. Boudie invokes pass without trace, and they set out.
The tracks lead down the mountainside, across a narrow ledge to an obscured cave in the cliff face. They enter to find a twisted maze of passages. Although they lead back to something that clearly smell like wolves, Jizzbins senses the presence of a dragon in these caves, as well.
Satisfied that they have not been noticed, they return to the village of Itok. The group collectively decides to see what will happen tonight before they make another move.
Boudie and Torbjorn do have a brief discussion about what to do with their comrades, given that there seems to be some strange malady among them, although they cannot fully determine what it is. Torbjorn notes that Alyonka was acting strangely while they were investigating the tracks, although she didn’t try to do anything terribly untoward.
That night, while sleeping, Alyonka, Gus, Jizzbins, and Xevok find themselves in that strange briar again, while Alyonka and Xevok still hurling lightning at the vine-man. After he rips into Gus and Xevok, Gus responds by bisecting the man. The dream abruptly ends, and Alyonka, Gus, Jizzbins, and Xevok awaken in a cold sweat.