The Reign Of Winter
Hermann's Tales 5
The deadly doll dealt with, we decided to leave the area of the hut before one of Baba Yaga’s people came to investigate it. Carrying on along the path we found the Great White Weasel.
I can tell you – if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I would not have believed it possible. A weasel bigger than a horse. Easily fifteen feet long and taller than a human, we discovered it crouched over the remains of a large deer. Kjell tried to befriend it – apparently an ability that druids have – but to no avail. As it leapt for him, Giorgio bravely blocked it’s way. What followed was short but brutal, leaving our heroic cavalier bleeding on the ground. Kjell cast a spell that animated the very ground against it, holding it in place while the rest of us peppered it with a combination of arrows and fire. I could hardly believe the amount of punishment the creature took before it died, but die it did.
We discussed taking the pelt home to prove that the dead hunter was telling the truth, but Kjell would have none of it, demanding we gave the creature back to nature. Benedictus healed Giorgio up and we continued on our path north.
Nothing further happened before nightfall, so Kjell made some basic wind shelters and we settled down for the night. I was awoken suddenly when the camp came under attack. By the time I gathered my wits (and my crossbow) Giorgio had handily defeated the talking stag we met a few days ago, Kjell was fighting some kind of monster made from air, and the rest of the party were fighting yet another ice fairy hidden behind a tree.
I couldn’t see the fairy from where I was standing, so took a shot at the air monster, hoping that my bolts could hurt it. My first shot took it between the eyes, snapping it’s head back. The look of hatred I felt from it told me my bolts were indeed hurting it, so I continued to fire at it. My second bolt slowed it enough that Kjell could get a solid blow in, separating what it had for a head from its shoulders. As it dissipated there was a victorious cry from the rest of the party – they had finished off the other foe.
Exhausted after this last combat, Benedictus healed what damage he could before we all fell back asleep.
The next morning was full of foul promise. Snow fell heavier than ever, causing me to fear that my protective spell might fail under the onslaught. It held though, and we continued northwards into the desolate landscape.
We eventually found what we guessed was the source of the cold weather – a whirling vortex of snow and ice, spewing forth the cold that covered the land. It was surrounded by a spiky wall of ice, a short distance away from some igloos and a small cave. Lazarus suggested we clear the area methodically, and everyone else agreed.
I, as the sole bearer of a light source, and magically protected from the cold and ice, ended up having to crawl through the snowbound entrances to investigate the igloos. The first was empty, save sleeping furs and clothing. The second was a trap – a thin layer of snow and ice over a twenty foot deep hole. My weight proved too much for this covering, and I plummeted into the darkness. Thankfully my landing was fairly soft, so it was more my dignity harmed than much else. Idrin let a rope down to me and helped me climb out, and I investigated the third igloo. This one also proved empty save sleeping furs and clothes, so I turned to the last one.
This last igloo turned out to be a trap of a different kind. Three tiny fairies, hidden amongst shelves, fired at me as I entered the small room. A string of curses erupted from my lips, and despite the stings of their tiny arrows I managed to cast my sleeping enchantment. This took care of two of them, leaving me face-to-face with the third. There wasn’t enough room to swing my spear, so I dropped it and willed my claws to appear. This battle was fully as savage as any I had previously fought, my allies unable to come to my aid. Thankfully my claws, that I no longer thought of as a curse, proved to be too much for the creature, and despite stinging from many tiny cuts I killed it, ripping it apart in my fury. It seems that these claws have saved my life – a mark in their favour given they cost me my youth. If I am fated to die a grisly death for turning into a dragon, at least I can choose to do so in the service of Sarenrae.
We then went to the cave, with Idrin in the lead. This turned out to be very fortunate, as just within the cave mouth yet another ice fairy attacked us. A large one, but one that was no match for a cold-iron dwarven war axe. Benedictus healed the damage the creature had caused Idrin, which healed me up a bit as well, and we went to look at the vortex.
As we approached the vortex, everyone spread out. Unfortunately there was a troll hidden inside a block of ice, and it burst forth when Kjell approached too close. The fight that ensued was bloody and terrible. We could see the creature’s wounds healing before our eyes, giving it unfathomable endurance, but that just made me vow to use my rapidly dwindling supply of crossbow bolts well and to make every shot count. When the creature finally fell Benedictus healed up what damage he could and we prepared to settle down for the night.
Before we could even clear the dead away a rider emerged from the vortex. He claimed to be a follower of Baba Yaga, and a bearer of the Mantle of the Black Rider, an order loyal to her. He was already at the verge of death, but bade us to hold our fire and explained that our misfortune was not Baba Yaga’s fault but treachery by one of her daughters. The only way to stop the cold overrunning our land was for us to find Baba Yaga so she could stop her daughter’s plans. But to do that we would need to use her magic hut. And to do that we had to accept the Mantle of the Black Rider. All this seemed too confusing to me. Having to help an evil woman so that she could stop another evil woman? It is wrong, no matter how you look at it. Eventually I decided to let the wisdom of Benedictus guide my way. If someone as wise and benevolent as he thought it the right thing to do, I would do also.
In the end the whole party decided to accept the Mantle of the Black Rider, and one by one we shared our blood with that of the dark rider. A strange glow came over me as my blood mingled with his, and I felt a power sink into me, meeting and awakening the power deep within my core. I felt stronger, more powerful. Moments after the feeling passed, my skin started tingling. I asked some of the others if their skin was also tingling but it seemed mine was the only one.
I would discover why the next morning.