The Dead of Winter - Chronicle Part 5

The Gethen Barrens, March 1043TA - Searching for the Stones.

The three head north to the Gwyr river, finding signs of small groups of orcs heading northwards. They follow the river north to an old bridge which is being guarded by orcs. The bridge has been hastily repaired and they see several large groups of orcs crossing the bridge, east to west. Several times over the course of their journey they hear and see dragons hunting and feeding on the western side of the river.

They approach the lake mid-afternoon and the ground gets increasingly marshy. The smell of stagnant water becomes heavier and swarms of midges surround them. They make good progress throughout the days, pushing on into dusk to get their quicker. Throughout the days they pass several ruined buildings - now only a cluster of low walls 10-12" high - remnants of the old Gethen nation. On their third day in the marsh they are attacked by a large mass of rotting vegetation - a shambling mound. The players defeat the Shambling Mound with ease.

After a couple more days they head west and begin to move towards the Stones. As they get closer you begin to see small groups of orcs (5-6) dotting the marshes - they seem to be patrolling the fringes. They are able to dodge them and make their way further to the stones. Deciding they cannot get to the Stones, they decide to head back to Brightstone. They head back south into the marsh, then turn east to bring yourself out on the eastern edge of the marsh, then heading south with the marsh to the west.

Later that day Wyvern spots smoke rising on the horizon. As you move further south, you see a castle in the distance. They creep closer. It's a large castle, probably hundreds of years old but the walls show signs of recent repair.
Clustered around the main gate is a sizeable settlement of 40-50 buildings. They can just make out orcs and humans mixing freely within the settlement. Fluttering from the towers they see a banner - dark blue with a white dragon rampant.
As they watch, they see a group of horsemen ride out of the castle and then toward them. They mount their horses and ride off but the riders follow them. After a few miles, Wyvern hides in a ravine while Callan and Ranan ride a bit further ahead. They trap the riders between them and kill them to a man, hiding their bodies in the ravine before riding south. They arrive in Brightstone several uneventful days later.

The Barrens, April - May 1043TA - Orc Hunting & Return to the Stones.

To pass time the whole group head off west looking for signs of Orc migration. They find many signs and come across the tracks of a large group of hobgoblins heading east. As they approach the group they see a large dragon and it’s rider swoop down to intercept the hobgoblins. Some sort of meeting takes place between them and then the dragon and rider fly off.
They travel a circuitous route back to Brightstone, finding the area strangely devoid of orcs and goblins.

To further aid their expedition to the stones, Ranan crafts three Hats of Disguise. Wyvern, Tarquin and Callan decide to go orc hunting to test them. They meet several groups of orcs, some were fooled but some weren't – leading to the killing of thirty or more orcs at their hands. They eventually reached the ruined bridge and walked into the camp disguised as orcs. An orc warrior saw through their disguise so they killed all the orcs present and sabotaged the bridge (by partially cutting through the ropes) and headed off back to Brightstone.

In mid-May Tarquin, Wyvern, Callan and Jewels head north to view the meeting at the stones. The journey is uneventful and though they find the tracks of orcs, they do not spot any. They find the Shevenar Stones in a deep, circular valley around 5 miles across with the stones at the centre. There were around 20,000 orcs, hobgoblins and bugbears in the valley as well as three hundred humans wearing the white dragon banner they saw at the castle to the south. They identify 3 tribes of orcs, 1 tribe of hobgoblins and 1 tribe of bugbears.

They waited for nightfall, hiding at the top of the valley. When darkness fell, they decide to go down into the valley. The soldiers were sitting apart from the non-humans and they feel they can get past without too much trouble. Jewels decides to cast the spell 'Prying Eyes' to allow him to scry on the proceedings in the circle.

They descend with no trouble - only the bugbears nearby give them some verbal abuse as they pass. As midnight approaches, there is a stirring in the crowds and they see the leaders enter the circle. Jewels set off his eyes but wants to get within fireball range. Wyvern argues that if they stayat the extreme Fireball range then the three fighters will get creamed if they are forced to enter combat. So they move closer.

They are unable to hear what was going on - only see the movements and expressions of the seven leaders (a middle aged human mage, a magey looking orc, two fighter looking orcs, a bugbear, a hobgoblin and a human/fiend hybrid in the white dragon tabard).

After a few minutes the mage uncovers some object in the centre of the stone and mutters something about 'Anatheroth's Gift'. The Circle begins to fill with a white mist that soon began to seep out of the circle and across the valley accompanied by a rapid drop in temperature. The party begin to move towards the circle to get a better view.

They then see a strange green glow appearing in the centre of the mist. They hear screams and dimly see people clutching their heads and falling over. At this point Jewels recalls his eyes and then fireballs the centre of the circle. Unfortunately they are then enveloped by the fast moving green glow and begin to suffer intense pain and bleeding from the nose and ears. Jewels collapses to the floor. Wyvern picks up Jewels and the three flee the mist. They get separated but eventually find their way back to their horses. Wyvern examines Jewels and discovers that he is dead - slain by the strange green mist.

They see hundreds of orcs and bugbears fleeing the mist in all directions. They then begin to hear the sound of fighting from within the mist accompanied by more screaming.

After a few more minutes the mist begins to pull back and dissipate. The floor of the valley is covered by corpses, covered in ice and frost. More alarming are the thousands of zombie-like goblinoids coated with frost and ice and the seven undead figures standing in the centre of the circle.

Wyvern, Tarquin and Callan mount their horses and flee.

The Barrens, May - June 1043TA - Escape From the Stones.

Tarquin, Wyvern and Callan flee the area, riding hard into the night. They stop for a few hours and head off again, stopping again the following evening. That night they are surrounded by riders wearing the White Dragon emblem. Their leader approaches them and says:

“I am Lasseman del Ray. We mean you no harm, our aim is only to drive the goblin filth from these lands. My master wishes to speak with you – he wants you to take a message of peace to Midwinter before any unfortunate accidents occur. “

The soldiers and their leader are all dead and they show signs of horrific injuries. Their skin is pale blue and their clothes and weapons are covered in a thin film of ice. Intrigued, they agree to follow him. Tarquin casts an ‘Animal Messenger’ spell and sends a brief note to Tibidee telling him:

“Goblin armies turned into zombies. Following a lead with Lasseman del Ray at castle SE of lake. Back in 10 days. Prepare for the worst!”

The three are escorted to the castle they passed previously and given rooms. Lasseman tells them that his master is away but will be back shortly, he leaves them and locks the door behind him. For three days they are kept locked in. Food is delivered at regular intervals but they are always waiting for the master to return.

Finally they begin to go stir-crazy. Tarquin summons another animal and sends a message back to Tibidee, telling him that they are about to do a runner. When food is delivered next they barge through the door and run out of the castle. They batter their way through the zombies in the castle and out in to the courtyard. Fighting through more zombies they head for the stables. Callan keeps the zombies at bay while Tarquin and Wyvern saddle the horses.

They burst out of the stables and head to the gatehouse, only to be stopped by the portcullis falling. Tarquin and Callan head into the gatehouse to open the portcullis, killing zombies as they go. While Tarquin opens the gates, Callan goes back to help Wyvern. They ride out through the gates and Tarquin fights his way to the battlements and climbs over the walls. He falls off halfway down but not badly. He joins the others on the horses and they ride off.

Tibidee is having his breakfast when the first message from Tarquin arrives. He gets the troops in the keep to begin preparing for war and heads off to Midwinter. He visits the church of Orloth, but gets a cool reception so heads to the Academical Society to get support. They agree to send a mage to investigate.

Several days later clerics of Orloth, Phaedra and Erryn arrive at the keep along with a mage from the AcadSoc. The mage has a flying carpet but says he can only take two passengers with him. Tibidee and the Erryn priest join him on the carpet and they head off north. After a day and a half of flying they come across a rag-tag group of riders coming south being chased by a larger group of horsemen.

Wyvern, Tarquin and Callan have been riding almost non-stop for two days trying to evade their undead pursuers. After a brief conflab, Tibidee takes the Fireball scrolls made by Jewels prior to his death. They head off towards the horsemen. They strafe the group. The AcadSoc mage launches a fireball at the group, but before Tibidee can do likewise someone in the undead riders launches a cone-of-cold at the carpet. The AcadSoc mage is killed and plummets to the ground, but Tibidee manages to miss most of the blast. He launches a couple more fireballs at the zombies while the zombie-mage fires spells back. After a few rounds all goes quiet. They are not sure if they have killed the mage, but there is no sign of his body amongst the carnage. Tibidee flies back to the other three and they head for home.

On to Part 6 of the Chronicle.

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