Arrival +1 day, 1 hour, 31 minutes - +1 day, 17 hours – Ulframm leads the group away from the village and into the peaks that seem to go on forever above. This first day passes without event, the group making excellent progress with their guide, climbing for many hundreds of feet into high, lightly forested ridges studded with weathered boulders and alpine flowers. They stop after about 8 hours, and make camp in the brightness of the day – for the sun (a vast, silvery star that almost eclipses two smaller, brilliant blue stars) – will not begin to set for at least another 12 hours.
During this first day Ulframm explains that he, Ulvar, and the Shaman have spoken, and that they all believe the best chance they have of locating the Path of Shadows is to ask the ancient spirits of the Nordvyrr's ancestors. Once this would have simply been a matter of seeking one of their holy places, speaking the appropriate phrases, and leaving the prescribed offerings of blood and gold. However, long ago the Vanogg and their foul leader – Gor'Kuul – found some way to bind the ancient shades to their wicked wills, and since then, their once beloved ancestors have become their deadliest foes; striking at their children when they come close to their burial grounds – though always whilst lamenting their inability to leave them in peace.
Asked about the Vanogg, Ulframm grows angry. He explains that they are debased tribesmen who long ago turned their back on their ancestors and began to worship ruinous powers unfit for anyone but the insane. Given to ritually removing the flesh from their faces to give themselves a more fearsome appearance, they are long time enemies of the Nordvyrr and the other mountain tribes, for although they tend to stay in their lands further up the mountain, on some dark nights they launch terrible raids on their neighbours, stealing away their children for foul purposes and leaving disease and carnage in their wake.
As if all this was not reason enough to hate them, Ulframm then tells the group that they live amongst the ancient burial grounds of the Nordvyrr's ancestors; defiling their remains, hoarding their grave goods and disgracing their memory. This, more than anything else is a crime that must be answered for one day, and all the mountain clans pray for the day when they are able to end life of the terrible Gor'Kuul and scatter his foul children to the winds.
According to Ulframm, Gor'Kuul is ancient beyond belief, and is rumoured to no longer be truly human. He is said to command and to be given strength by dark powers, and it is his magic that supposedly holds the will of the ancient Nordvyrr's shades, and he who must be defeated if the group are to talk with the elder dead – no mean feat considering that over the last 80 summers there have been repeated attempts to kill him and his vile tribe, and all have resulted in defeat.
“If we killed Gor'Kuul, it wouldn't just benefit my clan. All the other mountain folk would be freed from the Vanogg's predations, and would likely unite with our ancient dead to drive the Gorgom from the mountain once and for all.
“If we slay Gor'Kuul, you will not only earn your way home, but will become legendary heroes of all the mountain clans.”
Arrival +1 day, 17 hours, 1 minute - +2 days, 11 hours – After a less than refreshing night trying to sleep in their stuffy, sun-warmed hide tents, the group continue up the mountain. The terrain quickly becomes rockier and steeper, and they soon begin to feel their muscles burning with the effort, and their heads spinning from the thinner air. Ulframm explains that they will soon hit a high cliff, named the “Bone Wall” by his people, which forms a formidable barrier to the upper peaks. He tells them that it will be far quicker to try and climb it than to go around it, but that he will understand if they wish to go for the safer, if slower second option, for it is an imposing and treacherous climb.
The group quickly discuss their options, the Ulnyrr openly displaying a slightly peevish dislike of their capable, giant guide, and decide to see how difficult this Bone Wall will be to climb. Telling Ulframm this, they continue on their way, the climbing continuing to get tougher, the air rumbling with an approaching thunderstorm.
By the time the party reach the Bone Wall – a huge cliff of shiny limestone, polished by years of erosion, which bears vast skeletal fossils in its surface - the storm has engulfed them, having suddenly broken from a huge wall of black cloud that seemed to manifest within seconds from over the peaks ahead. Cold rain drives at them hard, and thick blasts of icy, drenching fog rip across the mountainside, leaving each adventurer soaked and shivering in their wake. Storm waters spurt off the cliffs top, falling in spectacular white tumbles, which smack into a shallow pool at the cliff's base, and everyone suddenly begins to wonder just how safe climbing the 240' high wall will be.
“So, this is it!” Yells Ulframm, apparently unbothered by the howling winds and slashing rains, “You still want to climb it?”
“Of course we do!” Snaps Schnecke, “Just because we are smaller than you, and don't live such wild lives as you doesn't mean we are soft!”
Ulframm looks a little surprised at the outburst, and the Ulnyrr realises that the rest of the party are looking at him, wearing expressions that range from mild amusement to shocked confusion.
“We'll give it a go.” says Jaeger quietly, “If we rope together and take our time, we should be okay. My only question is what about Mord Bit?”
The huge wolf, as if understanding what is being said gives a loud bark, and Ulframm smiles. The Nordvyrr moves to the massive canine, and takes its head in his hands. Ruffling its sopping fur and pressing his forehead to the wolf's he begins to speak to it in his native tongue. After a few moments Mord Bit gives a playful bark (that is loud enough to send a shudder through each adventurer) and then tears off to the east, following the curve of the cliff.
“He'll meet us later.” is all Ulframm says, a smile on his face.
The climb is a slow and at times hair-raising process. However, the group manage to make it to the top; steaming in the howling winds and driving rain with the heat of their exertions. Each of them is forced to spend a good half an hour catching their breaths after the climb; time enough to stop their tired limbs from shaking and their straining lungs from aching, and although they begin to tramp onwards up the mountains increasingly treacherous and bare sides, they are soon forced to make camp – the storm now shoving them about with its mighty gusts, its rains and fogs preventing any clear view of whatever dangers may lie before them.
With the winds and the surging waters, it takes the group a fair while to make camp. Jaeger and Ulframm hunt for some food, and set up channels for the rains to flow along, and then work to get a fire going in the storm. Eventually however, the group are fed and the tents are up; billowing and booming in the unrelenting press of the winds and rains.
By this time it is clear that the suns have started to sink somewhere beyond the clouds, and the ambient light is slowly but surely fading. Ulframm warns that the group should set a watch whilst they sleep, for they are close now to the Vanogg's lands, and although it is unlikely, they may have scouting parties in the area. Lots are drawn, and watches organised...
Arrival +2 days, 11 hours, 1 minute - +2 days, 21 hours – The group are awoken by screaming outside their tent and savage growls! The storm has apparently abated, leaving a damp chill in the air, and the suns have now begun setting, plunging the world into deepening twilight, and it takes the disoriented and aching party more than a few seconds to work out where they are, what they are doing and how they need to react.
Throwing back the heavy flaps of the tent's entrance, the group stumble out, expecting to find Jaeger (who's watch this is) engaged in mortal combat with a pack of faceless daemon tribesmen or vast unearthly monsters. What they find however is the assassin lying pinned to the floor by the sodden bulk of Mord Bit, being mercilessly licked about the face and neck. On hearing the party emerging from the tent, the huge wolf gives a happy yip, and leaps off the assassin, almost crushing him in the process. He bounds over to Ulframm and almost knocks the huge barbarian over with his affectionate jumping.
Picking himself up, and smiling with a wince, the assassin tells the group that they are not due to be up for a little while yet and that they should get what rest they can before they set off. The group agree, and with the happy, soaking wolf joining them – his wet dog stink quickly filling the humid interior of the tent – the group get back to sleep.
Arrival +2 days, 21 hours, 1 minute - +3 days, 1 hour, 30 minutes – After a quick breakfast the group move through the deepening dark, their footsteps slow and uncertain, for a thick fog, heavy enough to swallow the light of Grigori's enchanted lantern and Seren's light spells, has wreathed the area. After an hour or so, the fog begins to break up, but is replaced with a steady, drenching downpour – every bit as concealing as the vapours they have banished, and the party begin to fret a little, for the terrain is becoming increasingly deadly. Sudden drops, loose ledges that crumble beneath their feet and false paths that lead to concealed scree all seem to be placed to thwart their efforts, and more than a few times they come close to catastrophe. However, they do make progress, and as the twilight gives way to true, rain blurred night, something terrible looms from the darkness.
They are totems, similar to the ones the group encountered at the boundaries of the Nordvyrr's territories. However, instead of wolf skulls and hide, these use ancient bones, rusted weapons and mummified armour, and are smeared in what seems to be blood and faeces. Ulframm almost looses control of himself at sight of them, for he quickly realises that the components used to make the grisly things are plundered from the tombs of his ancestors. They are a defilement of epic proportions, and are a clear indicator that beyond them lies Vanogg territory.
Weapons are brought wearily into ready positions, and the air begins to quietly thrum with power as the spell casters begin to let their power flow through them. The group slow their progress as much as they dare, and cast wary eyes everywhere, the rainy dark suddenly alive with suggestions of movement and waiting enemies.
However, despite all this, when the ambush comes, it catches all but Schnecke and Grigori entirely by surprise.
There are eight of them in all; four on foot and four on the backs of hideous dog things that have skull-like visages and crests of spines similar to those of porcupines growing from their thick, meaty shoulders. All are hideously mutilated, having removed most of the flesh from their faces, and all wield rusted and worm-eaten weapons, plundered from the cairns of the Nordvyrr ancients. Indeed, at first, the group are not entirely sure whether they face living Vanogg, or some kind of hideous undead – at least until they land their first blow and hot, smoking blood erupts from the wound.
The Vanogg charge, weapons raised, their carved faces nightmarish skull visages; their war cries keening insanity. It is a truly short and brutal battle; a whirling maelstrom of flashing blades, screaming mounts and roaring warriors. The initial impact of the Vanogg is checked by the party, and soon only the mounted warriors remain, the others having been chopped down or taken apart by blasts of magic. They foolishly choose to try and hem the party in together, and unwittingly give up the advantage of mobility, each finding death at the hands of the group until only one remains.
This foul warrior, realising that he is alone, tries to flee, spurring his monstrous mount away and into the darkness beyond the lanterns magical glow. However, Varracuda chases after him, throwing himself into an almost uncontrolled, headlong flight through the rain and darkness, heedless of the huge drop that yawns somewhere close to his right flank. He manages to close the distance, and with a roar, throws himself at the fleeing Vanogg, his blade shining with pale emerald flame. Seeing this, the warrior stops to strike him down – a mistake he won't live to regret. Seeing that Ulframm is on foot, and wanting to catch up with the fleeing Vanogg himself, Emmiven moves towards Mord Bit, and manages to calm the huge canine enough that he is able to clamber onto his back, and ride him towards the genasai. With Seren and Schnecke flying through the air (the sorceresses arcane light a pool of gleaming blue-green in the wavering darkness of the rain) behind him, Emmiven soon reaches the two; Varracuda bleeding from a spear thrust to his shoulder, the Vanogg smoking and hurt from the swordmage's blazing blade.
Jaeger unfurls from the darkness like a deadly flower, his nighted blades stretching impossibly through the plentiful gloom to slide through the Vanogg's side and into his entrails. However, it is Varracuda that ends the battle; calling upon the elemental energies of the storm and unleashing a blazing bolt of electrical flame that blasts the life from the skull-faced warrior, his twitching, flaming cadaver stiffening and crashing, corposant dancing through his smoking hair, to the wet ground.
The Vanogg mounts are finished with ease without their riders to guide them.
The group stumble back together, and after a quick check all seem to be okay; superficial cuts and bruises, and some nasty scratches, but nothing lethal – except that is for Mord Bit. On checking him over, Ulframm finds a wound on his mount's right shoulder that he initially thinks nothing of. However, as he moves the wet fur from it, Mord Bit gives a pained growl, and the Nordvyrr catches a whiff of corruption from it.
The wound, he realises with horror, is diseased.