Arrival +13 days, 4 hours, 40 minutes – Until they met the mountain, none of the group realised what an awesome enemy nature could be by itself. For the last ten days – save two spent hiding from a blizzard in a stinking cave – the group have trudged ever higher and higher up the mountain, moving from the tree line into bare expanses of cliffs and wind polished boulders. There they encountered three massive, two-headed gigorim, who were grazing their curious metal-scaled bull like creature. It was a brutal and bloody meeting, that saw two of the giant's slain, one set to flight, the bull like monster gutted, and Varracuda almost turned to stone by its petrifying breath.
It is from the thigh of one of these gigantic monsters that a legendary blade – the Hemsko Sinne – The Dragon's Anger – is recovered; a beautiful broadsword with a blade of dracananian bone, decorated with linnorm and runes of strength and protection. Wreathed in gold and white flame, it is a storied weapon sacred to the mountain clans. Emmiven claims it, experimentally swinging it, the blade light and oddly balanced after using a hammer so long.
From there they began to head into the high snow fields of the mountain, the air growing colder and thinner with each day. Here the environment truly began to crush them, both physically and mentally, and were it not for Grigori's protective rituals, it is likely that they would have suffered all the more. Nosebleeds, frostbite and insidious depression begin to take their toll as the group stumbled on, increasingly looking like the living dead, through the snowfields. Seren suffered the worst in these frigid realms, her lack of fat and reptilian metabolism offering her little in the way of protection, and there were increasing concerns that she would not make it as far as the entrance to the gorgom altar's hiding place.
The long day once more faded into glowing night, the skies aflame with the aurora's dance, and the ghostly glow of the massive moon. Although the sights were eerily beautiful, the clear skies and darkness only added to the group's woes, for the temperatures plummeted still further. Despairing, the group trudged on, concentrating only on putting one foot ahead of the other, and not slipping – for now only a screaming plummet over the edge of the fields' bordering cliffs awaits those that slip and fail to catch themselves. Seren continued to weaken, her scales growing dull and sliding free. Mord Bit also suffered, the wolf's ribs showing through his dull fur as hunger took its toll. Everyone had lost a huge amount of weight, and all were tormented by ulcers in their mouths, constant piercing headaches, nosebleeds and delerium. For Grigori, there was also the additional annoyance of the vial's voice, which grew stronger as he grew weaker, and eventually, the priest snapped, and to the dull shock of all, began to rant and rave at the vial and at the monster within; mocking its supposed power and daring it to harm him.
Jantherak says nothing more.
As the penultimate day of their journey to the altar site – assuming they had not got lost in the featureless landscapes of endless white and grey – the group make two discoveries. The first is, in the distance, the sighting of a great cloud column, rising from some unseen source. At first the group felt it to be smoke or steam, or even a rogue cloud (for by now they are above the lowest level of clouds). However, Seren recognised it as a cloud of supercooled ice crystals; a Fellfrost Vapour – an unnatural vapour usually only seen in areas where otherworldy energies are at work. Beautiful but deadly. Deciding that this must be something to do with the altar, the group finally took heart, telling themselves that their trials were nearly at an end, and that they had nearly succeeded.
Their joy was short lived however, for soon after, they found the corpse.
It dwarfed even the two-headed brutes they battled on the lower slopes, and was dressed in ornate mail, bear furs and a beautifully crafted spangenhelm. A greataxe, too large to be used by anything smaller than this massive creature, lay strapped across its back, its surface just as ornamented and beautiful as its armour. It lay face down, its flesh waxen and frostbitten, its eyes open, dull and dead. Ulframm told the group that this is a gorgom; one of the monstrous masters that dwell in the great city atop the mountain. One of the monsters said to guard the altar they seek.
Though most were awed or horrified, Jaeger spotted an opportunity in the cadaver, and with his face set into a grim mask of neutrality, began to carve a number of thick swathes of leathery flesh from the corpse. “Insulation”, was all he said when questioned about his actions.
A meat knife the size of a greatsword, with a blade of solid silver, was also recovered from the massive corpse, though with the night growing deeper and colder, the party moved on towards the looming cloud of supernatural ice crystals...
On the last night before they found the entrance to the altar, the group rested in tents insulated with heavy strips of gorgom leather, and for the first time since they could remember they enjoyed something akin to warmth. Grigori expended two precious sacred scrolls, and invigorated the sorceress and the assassin, who had himself began to succumb to the cold, exhaustion and altitude sickness. Alas, for the others, there was only the hope of finding their way home, and resting in a warm, safe place, where food and drink would be available when needed, as a cure for their bone-deep weariness, and all tried not to think too hard about how they would fare when they faced those that guarded the altar.
That night snow fell in a heavy blanket, and the group awoke to find the night air filled with flurries of bitter, gritty snow. Aching, dizzy and sore, they broke camp, and staggered their way towards the ever nearing cloud of shimmering icy mist; a tiny line of insignificant specks, dwarfed by the uncaring majesty of the mountain snowfields and towering glaciers above.
...And now, as the moon begins to sink in the blazing skies, and the anaemic air is so cold that even their breath falls as whispering snow, they pick their way carefully down a path of blue ice, which dips from the shifting auroral light of the snowfields into a place of billowing frost and roaring, algid waters; down towards the hidden place, where their way home lies – a path that only the dead can walk...
Arrival +13 days, 4 hours, 41 minutes – +13 days, 4 hours, 47 minutes – Were it not for Grigori's enchanted lantern, they would have met a horrific end several times already, for the dim radiance of the moon and aurorae cannot penetrate the thick shelf of ice and snow that forms an ice-fanged ceiling above their heads, and the floor they move across is a mix of rock and slick, black ice. To their left, an ice glazed wall of rock. To their right, a drop into unknown depths filled with billowing fellfrost vapours. Ahead, the ever increasing roar of a waterfall – the source of the mists and almost certainly the location of the entrance to the altar's hiding place.
“Remember what I told you,” whispers Seren quietly, her voice reedy and thin, her throat bitterly sore, “Avoid any water you see. It may be liquid, but in these conditions it will be unstable. It could freeze in an instant, and, well.”
She lets the sentence go unfinished, too tired to continue, and aware that her companions are either not listening, or, if they are, are able to work out what the effects of such water would be. The icy air gusts around them, driven into their faces by the force of the nearing waterfall. Thick columns of dark blue ice form warped pillars between the roof and the slippery floor.
“How far to the bottom do you think?” Asks Shnecke, just managing to resist the urge to gob a precious mouthful of spit into the shifting gloom below.
“A long way.” Answers Ulframm wearily, “Let us prey we have no cause to find out.”
A little further on, and the group notice that up ahead the ledge widens a little before ending in a billowing, roaring eruption of shimmering, icy water; a white plume of crashing, boiling liquid, fuming in the cold air as it simultaneously freezes and tumbles from somewhere above.
At first the group think the strange columns of ice that rise like stalagmites ahead are just that; harmless features of the strange, frozen terrain. However, at the same moment that they become aware of a terrible leathery thudding sound – unmistakably the flapping of vast, membranous wings – echoing from beneath the freezing vapours to their right, the columns begin to glow with a frozen light, and move, revealing that they are roughly humanoid things clad in armour forged of ice, and bearing heavy hammers of the same. Two blobs of ice unfurl bat-like wings, and take to the air, revealing themselves to be small, wiry humanoid made from glassy ice; their features sharp and devilish.
“Mephits!” Hisses Grigori when he sees the flying humanoids.
“DRACANI!” Yells Shnecke and Emmiven together as a huge form surges suddenly, the mists flowing from it like water, from the darkness of the deeps, and rushes to attack.
It is clearly young by its species measure, being only 60' from the tip of its ice tipped tail to its blunt, wide-mouthed head. It has dark blue-black scales, and is covered in back-pointing spikes of ice, which are longest along its spine. Its eyes blaze with green radiance, and its wide, black wings drizzle constant streams of icy mist. The air around the monster is in a constant state of agitation, and a low howling like that of a midnight storm, accompanies it, barely perceptible beneath its deafening roars and thudding wing flaps.
It gracelessly wings its way level with the ledge, and lazily sends a claw out towards Ulframm, the barbarian managing to stab the thing with his spear before it slashes into his thick furs, and sends him slamming to the ground.
Emmiven, Varracuda and Shnecke charge the monsters ahead, the ice elementals moving to meet them, whilst the assassin turns his attention to the dracani, and Grigori and Seren wait to see where they can be most useful. One of the mephits fires a shimmering bolt of arcane power at the warlord, denting his armour and sending him reeling, as he slams the hissing and blazing blade of the Anger into the frozen armour of one of the hammer bearers, the flames casting warped shadows across its rimed surface, a burst of steam screaming from the channel it melts. Varracuda unleashes emerald flames, and Shnecke lands a devastating blow against the same foe the warlord struck, sending a spiderweb of cracks through its form.
“Keep it up” Yells Varacuda, unleashing another wave of flame at the enemy, “These things aren't so bad!”
Across the way, and Mord Bit leaps at the Dracani just as the assassin surrounds it with filaments of web like shadow, his killing magic setting a deadly trap for the brute. Seeing his beloved mount throwing itself at the massive reptile Ulframm screams out a warning. But it's too late, and he can only watch as the huge wolf savages a dracani's wing joint, locking his fangs into its meat. With a piercing bellow of anger and pain, the huge monster begins to fall into the darkness, and to his horror, Ulframm watches as it takes the snarling wolf over the edge with it.
Both plummet into the dark mists below, a horrible yelping, bellowing and screaming accompanied by a massive roar of displaced waters, the only sign that both the wolf and the dracani are still alive...
Shuriken of pure ice sudden appear in the warlord's shoulder, their edges piercing his armour and allowing a trickle of his thin blood to ooze down his chestplate. Peering through the billowing clouds of the waterfall, the warriors can just make out another one of the strange armoured ice beings on the far side, its crude hands surrounded by gathering energy that shines with a glistening, faceted light. In answer to this attack, Seren unleashes a sculpted sphere of pure magical force at it, the waterfall parting spectacularly as it passes through. The distant monster dodges this, and continues with its own casting.
Frosty breath – shards of stinging, bitter ice – erupts from the Mephits as they dart back and forth between and above the warriors, and the hammers of the other elementals do their bloody work, leaving substantial dents in armour, frostbitten bruises, and where they draw blood, strangely frozen wounds crowned by crimson spikes of solidified blood. Shnecke, Emmiven and Varracuda continue to batter their foes, and Grigori works desperately to undo the gathering harm the monsters pour into them. The distant elemental caster finishes its spell, and at once, a brief but deadly storm of razor edged ice shards - potent with supernatural cold - tears across the ledge, leaving all but the monsters reeling; raw, frozen cuts criss-crossing their flesh, their armour and robes shredded. With a snarl the sorceress calls upon chaotic energies, and sends them in an invisible web towards the nearest foes. At once, the magic strikes them – not physically, but metaphysically – and their natural immunity to cold is replaced with unnatural vulnerability. Growling through her dizziness, the drakven calls upon more magic and unleashes it once, a wave of exhaustion threatening to overwhelm her as the power leaves her. A snarling sphere of lightning blasts the hammer bearer facing Emmiven to splinters, an arctic wave of preternatural cold erupting from it, limning all close by with frost. Immediately after, her exhaustion lost briefly in a wave of vicious joy at a foe slain, and the exhilaration of shaping magic, she forges a shrieking tempest of thunder and frost, and unleashes it at the foes, wounding the second hammer bearer and sending one of the mephits screaming in pain.
Grigori turns his hand to hampering the enemies also, calling upon his prayers to give his allies unnatural focus, and manipulating the essence of their foes to weaken them. His voice blending with the chanting of the drakven, and Varracuda's martial spells to form a well practised song of death and power; the soundtrack to every battle the group has fought together.
“Mord Bit has fallen!” Screams Ulframm, seemingly oblivious to his allies brutal battles, “He's fallen.”
“Bit busy!” shouts Emmiven tactically pulling away from the brute before him, “But if you help me here, we can end this quickly.”
Realising what he means, the Nordvyrr readies himself, and with the warlord's word charges the remaining hammer bearer, mirroring Emmiven's own charge. Emmiven has brought his trusty hammer to bear as he runs in, and the impact of both the huge barbarian and this send the monster flying.
The air tastes suddenly of metal, and the temperature drops until everyone's lungs ache. One of the mephits gives a snarling grin at this, unaware of the ruin Seren has wrought on his ability to resist what is coming, and even Grigori has to stifle a laugh when it the grin is sliced off its face by the razors of ice that whip through it, biting with enhanced potency thanks to Seren's spell, a moment later.
The mephit explodes.
In the distance, beneath the swirling frost fogs, Mord Bit goes quiet, whilst the Dracani continues to roar and thrash.
“QUIIIICKLY!” Howls Ulframm, his sword powering up into the hammer bearer's stomach.
The remaining monsters this side of the waterfall are soon dispatched, and the assassin and sorceress manage to blast and poison the lurker at the far side. And it is now that Shnecke becomes aware of a strange urge within him, not entirely his own. His loot from the death of Gor'Kuul was a small ring of ivory, carved with symbols associated with flying and birds, and here, on this precipice, with a terrible fall only a slip or slide away, the barbarian becomes suddenly intensely aware of the ring; of its weight on his finger and the power it holds. Curiously, he sends a mental command to the ring, telling it “Let rip”, and at once, a pearly light billows from it, engulfing everyone around him, and bathing all, himself included in a gauzy veil of soft light, which fades after a moment. All eyes turn to the barbarian as he suddenly charges the edge of the cliff.
“Take this Ulframm!” He yells, throwing the Nordvyrr his rope, “Tie it off so I can get back up!”
“What the HELL?” Screams Grigori as Shnecke flings himself off the cliff, axe in hand, insane laughter billowing from him, “Have you gone mad?”
But he hasn't gone mad, for after he plummets only a few feet, the ring begins to shine, and the pearlescent energy envelops him. At once, his dizzying plunge becomes a swift, but safe descent, and soon he is passing through the bitterly cold mists, and drifting closer to the awesome thrashings and bellowing of the dracani below. Shnecke lands in water, and immediately realises his mistake, for just as Seren warned, it immediately seems to boil, bursting up around him, only to freeze solid at once – an algid vice of burning cold. Roaring in anger, the Ulnyrr can see Mord Bit lying terribly still and clutched by the chilling water nearby. The wolf is unconscious, and is barely breathing; its fur wet through and stained with ugly patches of dark red. Beyond the wolf, also trapped in the ice, is the Dracani. It is still very much alive, though it bears countless bleeding wounds from the ice, and several substantial bite marks – clearly the work of the wolf. It turns its head towards Shnecke, and gives a hate filled shriek, the mists blasting out from it. Its massive wings bulge fantastically against the frozen shackles holding it, and with new strength born from its need to kill, the Dracani shatters them.
“NOOOO YOU WHORE-SIRED BASTARD!” Roars Shnecke, writhing with all of his might against the ice, “GET YOUR FUCKING ARSE BACK DOWN HERE!”
Summoning his substantial rage, the Ulnyrr pushes against the ice holding him, his flesh burning in the cold, turning leaden and pale. A powerful surge of icy wind batters him as the dracani's huge wings scoop up air and ponderously lift its bulk upwards, and he can only watch in fury as the beast begins to lift off the ground. Shnecke continues to strain, and is heartened to see the ice starting to crack. A rope from above drops down the face of the cliff near him, and he can hear Ulframm's voice as he starts his climb down.
“QUICKLY! THE DAMNED THING IS TAKING OFF AGAIN! SOMEONE GET DOWN HERE AND STOP IT!”
But it's too late. The dracani is fully airborne, and with an ear-splitting shriek, it begins to climb, disappearing into the mantle of frozen fog above.
“NO! NO! NOOOOOOOOOAARRRRGH!” Roars Shnecke, his rage finally winning over the ice, which blasts apart from him (though at once, the waters begin to freeze, threatening to grab him anew). “COME BACK HERE YOU MISBEGOTTEN NEWT! COME HERE AND LET ME TEAR YOUR HEART OUT! COME HERE AND....eh?”
From somewhere above the vast amorphous shadow of the dracani, comes a battle cry; insane with exhilarated madness. There is a terrible snapping sound, as if a vast whip has just been cracked above, a bestial roar, and before the shocked barbarian can even take in what is going on, the Dracani crashes back into the deadly embrace of the waters in a blast of icy mud and agitated supercooled water; its spine almost severed, the warlord pinned to his back, hammer still embedded in its vertebrae. The hungry waters immediately freeze over the stricken beast, though it immediately begins to thrash and writhe, trying to throw off the stubborn mammal on its back, and to escape the deadly clutch of the waters. Emmiven, shaking more than a little after his insane, mid-air dive/charge from the cliff onto the oncoming dracani, prepares to deal a death blow, but stops when Ulframm, his face a mask of stricken rage, drops from the rope, spear in hand and charges it, heedless of the waters that try to grab and freeze him.
“YOU KILLED MY WOLF MONSTER!” He bellows, tears streaming down his blood stained face, “I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU, YOU COLD BLOODED WHORESON!”
He leaps at the monsters head, and thrusts his spear with every ounce of his strength, his hate for the monster and his love for his mount. It enters the dracani's green glowing eye, bursting the luminous orb, before carrying on through the fragile bones at the back of the eye orbit, and on into the dracani's armoured brain; blasting a path of ruin into the creatures innermost being. At once the gigantic monster is slain, crashing to the floor with nary a twitch, the waters erupting to pierce and claw at it.
Leaping onto the monsters body out of the water, Ulframm turns to regards Shnecke, who is wading, staggering, towards them, the ice clawing at his calves and feet, his massive legs bowed under the weight of what he carries. Mord Bit.
“He's alive.” he says, placing the limp form on the slain dracani's flank, his own strength draining with the end of battle, “But barely.”
Ulframm looks towards the heavens, and at once a pale light gathers in the gloom above – Grigori's lamp, and with it, the hope that Mord Bit may yet be saved.