Our heroes trundled over the snowy slopes of the foothills which sparkled under the sparse moonlight through the scrim of clouds above and in spite of the Central Mountains which hovered blackly over the entire scene. They were in the lead of the party of 11. Behind them were Olf the Arborean healer, the green-cloaked bard Canohk and the half-faun warriors of the Achaánal clan taking up the rear; their battle axes with their daggers in their belts, their claymores strapped to their backs and their painted shields on their arms. Before long the clouds thickened and the cold night grew darker, a storm began to brew in a fogbank. The Blackwings could see it starting to move in their direction, an obscuring wall of bone-white which engulfed the Lich-Fortress that had been still visible in the distance in an ominous pall of churning mist. The snowstorm would bear down on the party within the half hour. Of course, it was then that Magiia realized that she wasn’t equipped with any cold weather gear. Grom, the shaman, tried to Calm Storm but failed. The 3 rangers that had accompanied the slayers on their mission to Cleft-Rills and that Vorwulf had sent southward to scout out a safe campsite several minutes before sighting the storm had yet to return. Vor and the 6 Hill-Lander warriors began to furiously dig into the snow. Increasing winds blew sleet into their eyes and the slayers lost track of the rest of their party finding that their dugout only sheltered Magiia the Feren Dragon-Blood Warrior, Grom the Shaman and Olf the Arborean (tree-man) healer aside from Vor himself. The storm raged above its roar rumbling through the snow while the slayers huddled together in their cramped shelter. They set to their assigned watches and took turns sleeping until the storm was finished burying the mountains in a heavy layer of fresh powder.
Dawn. It took a while for them to dig themselves out as the storm had dumped several feet of snow on them during the night. The foothills upon which they were traveling and the mountains to their north were a glittering desert of ice all of the crevasses, ridges and thickets filled and buried. Olf used his ESP abilities to locate the rest of the party and the slayers were able to dig all six of the Achaánal and Canohk the bard up, all blue-lipped and suffering hypothermia. Olf and the shaman healed what they could to ease the damage on the bard and all but one of the fighters. By mid-day they were again on the move in snow up to their waists. They had managed to cover about 4 miles by Vor’s reckoning spotting a large probably heavy-weight brown dragon in the clouds above when they were half that distance. None of them could identify it. Come evening Vor found a great place to dig a shelter at the base of a pair of rocks setting the fighters to do the actual digging. As they were getting ready to occupy the burrow Grom took the time to magically protect all of the party members with Impervious to Elements (Cold). Again they settled in for the night and assigned watches for the night.
Suddenly the screaming of the pair of warriors on second watch woke them abruptly to splattering snow and face-to-face with a rather pleasantly surprised (and very hungry) winter-dragon who had just dug into and opened the front end of their snow-cave. The Hill-Landers horrified were pushing backward deeper into the ruined shelter squeezing the slayers into the rear. Magiia easily pushed her way through the frightened half-fauns to the front. Vorwulf shouted, “Stand your ground!” to the Achaánal clan warriors and then shot an arrow from his bow. The barbed dragon-bone arrow found its mark striking deep, the dragon blasted the crew with its frost breath in response but to no effect. Magiia struck at it with her axe hacking a deep gash in its pearly-white hide the blood dropping as clumps of red ice crystals onto the snow. Grom tried to get a spell off but failed as he was jammed against the rear rock wall. The dragon leapt backward with a mighty beat of its wings blowing snow into their faces causing the Hill-Landers to hide their faces behind their shields. Vorwulf shot another dragon-bone arrow into the beast and it shrieked falling backwards about 100 ft. into the snow; the giant winter-dragon disappearing from sight. Magiia losing control of herself flew into a rage and chased after the dragon crazy for its blood.
Magiia (growling): “I need its blood!”
She leapt into the hole in the snow onto the rapidly sinking corpse. They realized that they were very near to North Lake, the stones where they had dug their quinzee were probably just beyond the shore, and the dragon had jumped backward and dropped dead over the lake falling through the built up snow into the icy water. Maggi (Magiia) was slashing madly at the draconic corpse steeping herself and her dagger in blood and gore. The others realized she would be dragged under into the icy waters by the sheer weight of the dragon’s body and probably drown due to the encumbrance of her armor. Grom cast Bestial Might and growing a pair of wings snatched her from the dragon’s mutilated corpse just as it sank beneath the freezing lake waters bringing her back to the camp by the rocks. She turned and spent the last of the manic energy of the episode trying to spot the location of the dragon’s body when she couldn’t see anything she collapsed to her knees finally recovering her senses. The party spent the rest of the night bunched up against the rocks in the depression where their snow-cave had been.
The red dawn saw the party breaking into their trail rations. Of course, it was then that Magiia realized that she wasn’t carrying any food. The shaman shared some of his rations with her and gave her 10 days’ worth to carry. After breakfast and just before they broke camp the shaman war-painted them as a “precaution”. Later Vorwulf found a stable and easy path across the hills and over the snow and led the party straight eastward. The day was uneventful but exhausting and by dusk they came to a steep decline. It was snowing. Vor knew that the Trade Road was very near and possibly the safest if not the only way down from the foothills otherwise the party would have to climb moving very slowly along the steep hillside. Due to the snowfall and the deepness of the drifts he simply couldn’t find it. He found what he thought was a safe camping spot and began to dig hoping to find the road in the morning. By dark the dugout was ready and the group gathered while Grom cast his Protection from Elements spell. He botched it and the magical energy got away from him exploding in a brilliant flash. Fortunately the explosion only really wounded Vor though somewhat badly (he rolled a Natural 1), the other fighters were only lightly singed. The shaman apologized from the center of a ring-shaped crater and used the Heal All ability on a magic ring to restore all of the wounded back to full health. He successfully cast Protection from Elements on the second try. The night went uneventfully as another winter storm raged above.
Come morning the slayers were puzzled to find dragon tracks sunk into the snow circling their burrow. They surmised from the tracks it was a heavy-weight and a five-toe.
Vor: “A five-toe, sh*t. Those things are smart.”
Grom: “What are they more powerful or something?”
Vor: “You remember that big red one? [The Dragonslayers I Pt. 38: The Big Red One] He was a five-toe but also a dragon-lord.”
The slayers studied the tracks for quite some time, the rest of the party the six Achaánal and Canohk the bard, Olf was waiting patiently, were getting a bit restless and eager to get back on the move. Vorwulf guessed, due to a few recondite clues gathered from and around the tracks, that it could be a Brown Spine Dragon a species native to the Granfor forest but believed to be extinct. None have been seen alive in an age. Reminded of their mission by the bard they tore themselves from speculation on the tracks and began hunting for the Trade Road in the snow. Vorwulf still in heavy contemplation about the rare dragon started off in the wrong direction. It was the shaman who spotted the road only a few hundred feet east-southeast from the quinzee. They figured it was time to get some bearing as to where they should be headed so Magiia whipped out the sword named Anvil and let the shaman use his Clairvoyance on it. He was able to get a better read on the rebel camp than last time and could see with his mind’s eye the warriors the Blue-Hand had gathered to himself. Among the Blue-Hand’s forces were about a hundred Westlander “peasant” warriors and around fifty Westlander tribal warriors. Due to the shaman’s descriptions of their facial tattoos Vor thought they may be from the south somewhere around Veringer’s Field and Eagle’s Grove. They decided they needed to keep moving straight east as they had only covered about 14 miles in the past 2 days. They still had easily over 30 miles to go. If they kept making as little headway as they had so far they were going to lose the race with the Black Moon. Snow began to fall as they pushed on and soon the gossamer haze of the harsh Westland winter cut their vision to around 20 ft. They stopped and tied themselves together at the waist with a rope then continued on in the white-out. As dusk fell the haze eased a bit as did the snow fall though it didn’t stop. Again they found an obstacle in their path. They gazed over the steep drop to which they had just arrived. The hillside was extremely steep and below that another steep hillside which led into a gorge and that to a frozen but presumably still flowing river. To the north they could just make out a still flowing waterfall more by its sound than anything else.
Vor: “Devils Falls.”
They had come to the river gorge which fed Loc Lake and thus Farm Creek and which flowed under Miller’s Bridge to the far south. They set camp by digging another burrow at the base of some rocks. By third watch the snowfall had become a raging snowstorm and the team awoke to their snow-cave collapsing in on their heads! The Hill-Landers were able to keep it from completely burying all of them using their shields to shore up the ceiling while Vor desperately worked to repair it. Grom spent an hour trying to calm the storm but to no avail so he continued with another more powerful version of the spell (Calm Storm I & II) for an additional hour finally able to ease its elemental rage. At dawn they spent an hour at the top of the slope arguing about the best way to get across as walking around would simply take too much time; time which they did not have.
Eventually they settled on going north a ways towards Devils Falls so they can cross the river which flows from the mountains to the waterfall and having Grom cast Bestial Might on himself to grow wings, fly over and tie the rope to an anchor, and move across it in a daisy chain. After a couple of tries they got it right and were able to get their party across the frozen river without casualty. A few hours later towards early evening however, a deep and ominous rumbling came gradually to their frozen ears and they saw a billowing wall of white ripping down the mountainside from their immediate north. Someone shouted, “Avalanche!” Immediately Grom used his Bestial Might to fly off with Olf the healer and Vor slashed the air with his Scimitar of Dimension Door Maggi just barely jumping onto his back in time to be whisked out of the path of white death as he leapt through.
Late that night the team found themselves resting in the tops of trees in a thicket at the foot of a hillside. The slayers had finally regrouped with the healer’s help they had located the buried members of their troop and rescued and healed them among the thicket in which they now rested. The night passed uneventfully, the party decided to rest for another day as the shaman and healer were both still exhausted from the previous night’s efforts. The day was grey with unbroken cloud cover the only sign of dusk was an intensification of the wintry gloom prior to a very thorough and seemingly premature darkness. Just as they began to drift off to sleep a fighter screamed! The trees were whipped by a blast of stinging winds and snow. The slayers, the bard, healer and the fighters held on for dear life. In the sudden chaos Vor and Maggi caught a glimpse of a massive brown dragon with a collection of quills at its tail and horns over its back swooping in just above the skeletal treetops. It was a Brown Spine Dragon. Magiia’s eyes followed it as it soared upward into the clouds.
Magiia: “It’s flying east!”
Jenn (Magiia’s Player): “Should we go follow it?”
Cris (Vor’s Player): “Man, I want to get that dragon but we got a mission. Let’s find the Blue-Hand first.”
The next morning they climbed back up the hillside and continued struggling eastward through the frigid waist-high drifts. By sundown they found themselves at a dead stop on the edge of a 100 ft. cliff. Vorwulf knew the cliff and the box canyon it bounded as Nizgal’s End named after the fate of a petty warlord of a century ago. Stumped they bivouacked on the cliff’s edge.
To Be Continued…