Cold…I never knew what real cold was until this winter. Thank the gods we have stout walls and a huge mantle place keeping Staghold warm. As I write this by candle light, I can still hear the moaning of the winds outside, and am grateful that’s all I can hear. But I jump ahead. Much has happened the last few weeks. Our earstwile clergy left for parts unknown, but a stranger named Theidrun has joined our group, again making us four. He is kin to our fallen friend, the paladin, and professes the same abilities. His manner and bearing mark him from very far south, and his garb draws many a curious glance. Still, there is something that inspires trust in the man, and he appears to be well-schooled with the falchion he wields. Time will tell if he earns our confidence and secrets.
We’d decided to pursue the bounty on the trolls in the southern Narlmarches, as there is a sizable reward for them offered by Restov. A bonus for our little fiefdom, really, as we’d have had to deal with their marauding sooner or later. I’m thinking of renaming the Staglands, as the Wolf Lands (or mayhap the Troll-haunts) seems more appropriate, judging the the number we’ve encountered. Somehow the portal must be bleeding its malignant energies into the surrounding territory, because we’ve encountered a number of supernatural creatures that seldom are seen in the lands when things are normal…a foul demon-wolf, a barghest, attacked our group with a band of very large, primitive wolves. The thing’s fell magics were of little use, however, as we’ve become somewhat hardened in our journeys. The thing escaped, badly wounded.
On our return, I have decided we shall begin construction of an Inn. This should make the locals very happy, and will, I hope, entice merchants to journey out of their normal paths and visit our fledgling town. Unfortunately, my requests for more aid and resources from Restov seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. We are on our own, for the present. In other things,a matter I was reluctant to address has presented itself. Apparently one of our guards got light fingered, and was caught pilfering the storage vault. I have had to make my judgment public and stern. He has been banished with a week’s food and a old wolf pelt, but I suspect he will not make it far, as the witner winds have picked up and conditions are barely tolerable on the open stepp. He is lucky I did not follow Ruza’s suggestion and maim him with the loss of a hand. The peasents seem satisfied for the most part,and I made the verdict very public so they know there is law in Staghold. Ugly buisness, that. At least Flurg the smith has completed his work on the steel wall at the tomb. He is returning to Staghold, and looks grateful for it. Anyway, about our journey South and West: danger.
While exploring the area and looking for troll-sign, we happened on a small tribe of lizard folk along (or I should say IN) the Shrike River, not far from its exit into the Candlemere. This nearly led to war when we discovered on of the local children, Tig, was kidnapped by the creatures for what would undoubtedly be a grisly sacrifice to their ancestors. Our clumsy ranger (is he REALLY a woodsman?), stepped on a weak branch and nearly fell out of the tree he had climbed to observe the island, alerting the tribe to our presence. A tense situation followed, where the language barrier proved most difficult. Although reclusive, my knowledge of these scaly folk indicates they are not naturally aggressive or evil toward humans.
And my suspicions were born out, for a foul creature of the elements had been masquerading as the spirit of their ancestors. After some initial wariness, we were invited to enter the village, where we underwent a primitive ceremony before the ‘spirit’ manifested itself. I believe the creature to be one of the swamp dwelling will-o-wisps. Pure evil, the manifestation wasted no time in demanding our deaths (and that of Tig’s). The thing was cunning enough to shock me…MANY TIMES. When I awoke I learned the thing had been destroyed and a somewhat nervous peaceful relations had been restored. I’ll have to ensure I utilize my arcane missile spell vigorously when I travel wisp territory. The newt-men have treated us well, giving what gifts they consider valuable, and we have learned there are at least five trolls in the band we seek…and something we believe is part troll and part hound. I am eager to see this thing in the flesh. For the lizard folk, I think we have made real friends. Time will tell. We have returned Tig to his grateful parents, with a stern warning bout wandering off from their sight. I doubt the little bastard has learned his lesson, though.
Less than a day later, and we have encountered the mad brother of Bokken. He is an excellent shot with a pine cone (I believe he somehow sharpens their edges). The lunatic made it clear he wanted to nothing to do with any other folk. We left him cringing in his tree with that mangy cougar, after he had pointed the way to troll territory. I am sure we shall have to do something about him, sooner than later. We’d not gone far when we discovered large tracks, draconic or lizard-like. Obviously not of troll origin, however. There were rumors of a forest drake in the area, and the ranger thought perhaps this was the best’s trail…or that of the legendary Hodag’s. Hodag indeed, I thought at the time. I now know such things exist. We tracked the beast easily enough, even though legend has it the beast’s tail sweeps behind it to cover its tracks. Believable, because we did see much snow had been swept into its tracks along its wandering trail. Were it not for the fresh snow, who knows? In a massive deadfall of logs many feet long, we found the creature’s lair.
A gapping hole opened within the deadfall, and we elected to lay our goodly supply of bear traps before the entrance. A wonderful ploy, had it seen completion. Whether the snow or his unfamiliarity with bear traps, our fool ranger managed to set off his own trap and catch his arm within, screaming like a little girl. This brought the Hodag to us in the worst possible way. The beast bellowed and shot out of its lair like a bolt from a crossbow, navigating the field of traps with great cunning. The hapless Raker was hit with the force of a battering ram with a mouth full of daggers. How he lived, I cannot say, but he was savagely mauled before a shaft was loosed. The beast proved formidable, and the glint in its eye showed a dim intellect. But not apparently smart enough to parlay. After a short battle, Ruza’s blade and the Paladin’s falchion found their marks, killing the savage thing. True to his word, we found the woodsman’s spear within the cave. The Hodag had apparently dislodged it with vigourous rubbing. The paladin seems particularly interested in souvenirs from the Hodag’s carcass
After a few day’s rest, we moved on, pressing westward. What I at first thought to be a natural rock formation turned out to be an elven shell-keep. How might one mistake it? The place was so encrusted with vine and creeper that it blended quite well with the surrounding area. Something here was not quite right. The area around the keep seemed to be resistant to winter’s approach, and there was little snow about. The southern warrior examined the ruins, entering through what looked like a safe gate. Little did we suspect the rusty portcullis was trapped, set to fall on any who passed below, and the architect of this cruel design turned out to be a malicious and cruel little fey. The creature moved so fast that its features were indistinguishable. In fact the tower was home to several dark fairy folk.
Constant guerilla attacks by the little bastard proved very tedious, and we were unable to counter his assaults for some time. His little tower chamber within the keep was cozy, unless you consider the bloody scalps of bandits, common folk and other things that the dimminutive beast used as art decor. While we searched his tower, the scum made short work of Dawson the mule’s bridle. Dawson, being no fool, fled as best he could. When we exited the tower, the little shit dropped a hunk of masonry on me! Faster than thought, he was gone out of sight. Ruza almost hit the tiny cretin with a tangle-foot bag…almost.
The keep itself was ancient, and of elven design. I can only imagine its beauty when new-made. Circular in nature, with four equidistant minor towers wrapped around a central tower, the place would have been an excellent fortress in these savage lands. One can only wonder what befell the original owners. Protecting ourselves as best we could from the tiny terrorist, we chose to enter the main tower, whose dual exits had long ago lost their wood portals. A masterwork stair case ascended upward to unknown areas. The barren lower floor we started to examine for hidden exits. We had barely begun when a purplish mist welled up within, a magical concoction that invaded our minds with thoughts of moonless nights, twisted woods and rivers of hot blood. The lesser minds in our group almost succumbed to the numbing mists, but we endured. The mist quickly disipated, and we elected to push the cart into one of the exits to ward of the quickling.
Ruza probed the upper level, and here she met with the queen of the place, a bloodthirsty fey more akin to vampire than dryad. I had hear legends of the Baboan Shea, those witch-dancers than ensnare men’s minds and drink the blood of the living. I know Ruza is a two-way street sexually, and so the evil fairy witch nearly ensnared the half-orc hussy with her own lusts. But my training in the proper shielding of one’s mind from eldritch attack undoubtedly saved her…that, and the blade she wielded, which sang for fey blood. We would have come to her aid, but the Shea’s paramour called us to battle, with the aid of the quickling. Grimstalkers are horrid on their own, but this particular vermin was enraged at our invasion, and brought battle with a fiery desire. In short order, the evil fey had flanked Rake, and again our archer companion was rendered insensible from his wounds. The quickling found courage with the grimstalker, but to his regret, I was ready for him this time. Our battle was short and brutal, matched only by Ruza’s fierce rebuttal of blade and hate as she devastated the baboan shea. Theidrun was as good a warrior as I suspected. But such is the power of the witch, with her dying words, she summoned ark magic and cursed our woman warrior with a weakness that left Ruza pale and weak.
We spent that eave in the eleven keep, nursing our wounds while the ranger made a makeshift bridle for Dawson. The half orc spent her hours grumbling and demanding we return to Restov, so she could be free of the Shea’s parting ‘gift’. I still think it is all in the wench’s mind. But she refuses to go further unless she can see the mage of the guild. Aggghh. Women.
I’ve little to write about our trip to Restov. Will write again when we get into troll territory.
Ruza has spent quite a lot of coin, but she has convinced herself she is ‘cured’ of the Faerie hex. Ha! We leave for troll-hunting with first light.
Things have not gone well. Or at least, they have fallen apart after initial success. We did indeed find where the trolls were nesting. High up a dangerous cleft of trail, in an old watch post, the trolls made their lair. We observed the area for some days, as we know by their tracks the beasts are within. Finally, a small troll raiding party left the high fort, and brought one of their four-legged abominations with them. Three of the beasts and a fat, cankerous lizard-like hound. Looking at the thing is a feat of will, so ugly is it. The trolls passed close enough that we could hear their wretched speech. As one of us understood giantish, we discovered they were on their way to observe our fort. Unfortunately, they were not going to make their appointment. We took them in the wood, and for a standup battle (their dog alerted them to our presence earlier that we would have preferred), we handled their savage charge in an excellent manner. We destroyed the beasts fairly decidedly…but Dawson, one of our loyal party and closer to our hearts than a mule should be, fell in combat with one of the trolls. I should think I owe the brave mule my life, as he not only took the troll’s charge, but landed a few blows of his own! A mule as valiant as any warrior!.
We spend the evening in quiet contemplation of our fallen animal friend. Ruza dragged the mule’s corpse onto a pile of troll remains, giving it a send-off like some barbarian king fallen in combat, burned atop his slain foe’s bodies. Another few days passed as we observed the watch tower. No trolls came out, and so we made the treacherous climb up the goat track to the outcropping that held the watchtower’s entrance. We were spotted by a troll high up in a hidden entrance. He tried pelting us with rocks before retreating into the hill. Time became of the essence, in that the beast was undoubtedly summoning aid and we stormed the entry, battling first two and then two more of the beasts. Ruza initially leaped over the body of the dead troll in the doorway, running into trouble as the tower troll flanked her. She took a devastating blow and wisely retreated. The trolls, too stupid to widen their entry-way, had little choice but to come at us one at a time. One of them almost made it out and nearly succeeded in dragging Ruza over the precept’s edge. The battle lasted for some time, as trolls have the ability to heal most wounds very quickly. At one point, I thought the paladin had literaly been bitten in the heart! I myself have received a bite that I am quite certain will fester, thanks to the loving ministrations of a troll hound.
After we breached the entry, we explored and found many supplies from the troll’s raiding. We also discovered the remains of an unfortunate halfling. Not wanting to give up our element of surprise, we delved deeper into the mountain. Discovering a pair of trolls, our ranger attempted to lure them into another ambush. The trolls seemed startled by our light, and the ranger retreated, claiming he heard one of the trolls tell the other to summon ‘the Big One’ and tell the chief of intruders. We made short work of the lone troll that pursued the ranger, but hot on his heels came a monstrosity out of a troll-hunter’s nightmare. The size of an ettin, and of similar appearance, a massive two headed troll brute came into battle in the feast hall of the watch post. We’ve faced ettin’s before, and this freakish abberation was far more dangerous, being able to heal grievous wounds very quickly. Even from our ambush, the monster struck the southerner a blow that dented his helmet and stunned the man. I should think a lesser man would ahve died on the spot. The left head turned its rage on Ruza, landing a bite and clawing on her that nearly dropped the warrior to her knees. For a moment I thought the blow had blinded her permanently…and she now bears a trio of scars the cross her face at eye level…almost like permanent war paint (which I find strangely attractive on her).
With desperate haste, Ruza imbued her potion that bent light, and she disappeared from sight. Rake fled like the wind, myself close behind. The paladin became lucid enough to actually pass me up and I turned and found the brute close behind me…never have I been struck the blows I now received from its massive dual clubs…it nearly ended me…the momentum I received helped propel me past Theidrun, who again suffered raining club strikes. I nearly fell off the snowy goat path, as did Rake, in our haste to get away from the thing. Only later at camp did I learn what befell our companions…Ruza actually waited behind the two-headed creature, and when its back was turned, he grabbed up the fallen paladin and leaped bodily over the cliff. A sure death, were it not again for my magic ring! Even now, as we sit around a cold camp, she refuses to return the item. Perhaps a charm spell is in order.
We have decided to return to Staghold. Our supplies of fire arrows and alchemist fire is too low to deal with the remaining trolls as of yet.
The Old Beldame has been acting strangely these past few days. Today she told us there would be a powerful storm, and we should double the guard. Guards for a storm? Still, I suspect she communes with beings that give her information, for when we visited her on the return trip, we overheard inhuman voices and saw green light emanating from her hut. I sense no evil in her, and she has even agreed to make more arrows for us…but she insisted on traveling with us to Staghold staying at the fort, something she never does.
I now know why she insisted on more guards. The storm was truly the most powerful I’ve even heard of even in legends…a white tunnel of whirling cold death that came on with no real warning that lasted for weeks. But the storm brought more that chill. Things moved and hunted inside that grey gale…We were eating a hearty stew, listening to the high pitched moaning of the wind…the gale so strong it nearly drowned our fire in the chimney flue. Even Mugluk was silent, rocking nervously in the hall. I asked the giant what troubled him, and if he were afraid of the wind-noises…he merely shook his great head and resumed his nervous rocking. I almost gave up the ghost when the Old Bel Dame stood ramrod straight right out of her slumber. She fixed us with a hag-eye and said we should check with the guards.
Ruza frowned, grabbing her furs and snowshoes while I grabbed a wolf-cloak and my components. Theidrun was remarkable reserved, when I know full well he suffers the worst from the cold as he is no native to these lands. Mugluk at first refused to go out, muttering ‘no no no’ in gaint…but when he saw us gearing for the cold, he reluctantly grabbed his club. Our warden assembled what men he could. Together, we exited the warmth of the hall, entering into that white gale. Climbing the stair was a task in that deluge. We could see the light from the roaring blazer within the first tower, and Ruza wrapped against the door. I struggled to hear the guard’s words, but he said he and the other two had heard on seen nothing but wind and snow. We took them with us as we visited each post in turn…we were little surprised, thanks to Bel Dame, when we saw the third tower’s door open, rattling against its threshold in the wind. Rake examined the tracks in the snow beyond…then led along the rampart to midway between the guard posts, and merely ended, facing out….
We could find no sign of them, even when one of the guards threw a torch over the wall to see if they had somehow fallen. The torch died quickly, but we saw no tracks or signs of struggle…it was almost as if they had taken flight. The wyvern? No, not in such a wind. Even a dragon would have been forced down in that chaos. The guards became spooked. And that was when we heard the sound. I at first thought it more gale-noise, but there could be heard a high pitched keening that overcame the ambient noise of the storm…a wailing that but a sliver of ice cold fear down the back of everyone present. One of the guards fled in terror, racing into the hall. We stood about for the briefest moment, before a crashing and splitting of timber told us we could hesitate no longer.
Mugluk pushed open the castle gate, his great strength plowing the snow enough for us to exit. Immediately the wind struck us full force, almost guttering out our feeble torches. Barely audible screams, faded, came to us from somewhere in the grey whirling mists ahead…the peasants long homes were under assault. The warden took his men and moved off to the far right, making for the other long home. The storm swallowed them from sigh in seconds, even their torches dim glimmers that were soon dispelled from vision. We came upon a scene of devastation…a corner of the nearest house’ roof had been ripped UPWARD, opened like a bear lifting a bolder looking for grubs. Nothing weaker than a strom giant could have achieved such a feat. Blood was sprayed in thick clumps around the loghome. Ruza shined her torch within, sword at the ready, and found many of the families huddled against the far corners of the cabin. They were all hysterical.
Another keening noise came to us, much closer. I readied my most potent spells, and is wear if a child would have darted out of that blizzard, I’d have burned them down. Ruza ducked back outside, just as another sound came to us…the sounds of a dog crunching a chicken bone…at first I thought I saw movement in t he grey ahead…but then I realized we were all looking too low…a pair of red glowing eyes appeared in the mist, fully twenty feet above the ground…the immensity of the beast was truly staggering…a massive grey-white, shaggy shape that dwarfed our hill giant. A great set of six-inch fangs were cleaned by a long black tongue as the thing leered at us hungrily…it disregarded the half eaten remains of one of my citizens and wiped its mouth in greedy anticipation. A set of forward bending black horns arched over the sloped brow…I could not see all of the beast, as the snow seemed to cloak it almost like the elements bent their will to its, and I’m thankful I could not. I’m sure we all would have all been scarred mentally for the remainder of our days.
The gaze of the thing…it seemed to lock onto my soul, and I got the feeling the thing was grinning with an ‘I seeeee you…I want you to see ME’ intent. Another howl echoed from somewhere to the right. The monster before us howled again in response and came forward in a rush, sloshing up snow high into the air. Despite my fear, I summoned the arcane words that would avenge our folk, unleashing a geyser of flame at the titan. It howled and shrieked as its essence was burned away, leaving a great black burn. Arrows, aimed well even with the gale, hammered into the torso, releasing their burning payload. It was then that I noticed Mugluk, frozen in fear. The beast noticed him as well, and the hill giant was lifted up as easily as we would lift a waif, the great fanged mouth burying itself into the squealing giant’s shoulder, as huge black claws dug furrows into Mugluk’s back. I threw more fire magic at the thing, and the arrows of my comrades came fast and steady. The southerner came charging (if one CAN charge in so deep a snow) and received a backhand that sent him flying bodily to lay sprawled in the snow. The thing had dropped the savaged giant as if it had grown bored with Mugluk. To the right, we heard the warden’s men giving combat to another of the things.
I do not know if it was the arrows or the fire, but something made the creature withdraw. We put enough arrows and flame into the thing to have felled half a dozen trolls. Whatever, the beast gave its howl and turned and fled with truly monstrous strides. I measured them at a length of three men between strides. I was to learn the things had a name in legends in the north…Wendol.