Joined: 20 Jan 2006
|Posted: Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:32 pm Post subject: Queen of Winter - episode 3
|Mimi, Aodhan, Chadis and Alan put their heads together briefly in the Queen of Winter’s stable. The air in the vast building was humid with the breath of a thousand horses and foul with the stench of their filthy stalls. Eventually the four adventurers decided on a course of action. They would steal some of the horses for themselves and for the rescued prisoners, and would try to create a diversion by freeing the rest.
Once all were horsed, the small group of adventurers and prisoners set off out of the stable at a gallop. Chadis followed behind, successfully encouraging many of the freed horses to follow.
As the riders raced towards the trees a piercing shriek rose from the Queen of Winter’s tower. The sound sent shivers down the spines of the adventurers and caused their horses to panic. Chadis and Mimi found themselves petrified with fear and unable to calm their bucking mounts. Turning to look at the tower, all the figures saw a white shape flying quickly from the portal, followed by the source of the terrifying sound. The Queen of Winter herself stepped through the portal, arm raised and finger pointed towards the adventurers. Even from this distance they could feel the hatred in her eyes. Her voice rose and with it the wind. Clouds gathered rapidly and the sky became black. The howl of her voice joined with the howl of the rising storm and the two became indistinguishable. In seconds visibility had dropped to zero and the adventurers found themselves in the midst of a blizzard.
Aodhan yelled over the wind to his companions that they should return to the tower. He argued that it would be better to fight the Queen and her dragon on their terms, rather than face them in the storm. His companions shook their heads. Chadis shouted in reply that there was a chance to escape without a fight, and that they should try to take it.
The harsh conditions hampered movement, but the forest was close and once they were within the treeline the adventurers felt safer. The trees gave little shelter, but any pursuers would find it harder to spot them. Chadis did his best to make tracking even more difficult by sending groups of riderless horses off in different directions.
The companions forged onwards. Alan and Aodhan helping the prisoners to dismount and then forging a trail through the snow with their bodies, Mimi and Chadis scouting ahead and keeping them all on course. The group passed the cottage where they had found Sertanian and Thurann, its pretty thatched roof had now collapsed under the weight of snow and wind.
Then, after many hours of struggle, they were suddenly free of the storm. Mimi was the first to lurch through the edge of the blizzard and to emerge into a sudden calm that lay beyond its farthest reach. Her companions stumbled free moments later.
The group found themselves a few hundred feet away from the obelisks which marked the portal back to their own realm. After a moment of uncertainty, Chadis volunteered to ride ahead and through the portal. He urged his horse onwards and between the obelisks. Nothing happened. He looked around. The road was still there, and so were his companions. He rode through the obelisks again. Again nothing happened.
Mimi approached the obelisks from a number of different angles without success. Chadis and Alan asked each of the prisoners if they knew the secret of the obelisks. Jalissa, who had been clinging to Alan since her rescue and who had barely spoken a word, looked up. She said that portals often only work one way, but that a twin portal going the opposite direction will sometimes be found nearby.
The adventurers decided to chance the stone road and see if it led to a second portal. The exhausted prisoners followed them.
The road led into a deep and dark forest. Ahead, the sounds of a waterfall could be heard. The adventurers dismounted and approached this cautiously, and from the trees observed a group of the fey creatures standing around a stone circle while one of their number incanted from a scroll in his hand.
The adventurers left the prisoners and the horses behind and snuck closer to the quicklings on foot. Leaping from the trees they caught the creatures by surprise and set about them quickly. The creatures swarmed around Aodhan who cut half a dozen of them down with one mighty swing of his battle axe. Chadis and a slinger, who stood near the waterfall, exchanged fire from a distance. Chadis’s arrows having far greater effect than the slinger’s pots of glue.
The feyling who had been at the centre of the circle and had led the ritual tried to flee across a ford in the stream with a scroll and was pursued by Alan, Aodhan and Mimi. He was cut down in the shallow water. Seeing his leader die, the slinger dived into the waterfall and Chadis saw him disappear into a cave behind the water.
While her companions recovered the scroll and inspected the stone circle, Mimi dived into the water in pursuit of the slinger. Behind the waterfall she found a cave with several different chambers. She saw the slinger dart into one of the chambers and followed. Rounding a corner she was startled to see a white dragon lying upon the floor. “Is this what you are looking for?”, asked the dragon as it lifted the body of the lifeless slinger in one claw.
Mimi turned and ran, the sound of the dragon’s wings flapping behind her speeding her on. She dived through the waterfall and managed to shout a warning to her friends.
The dragon burst from the waters of the fall. It reared back and roared in anger, sending Alan and Aodhan sprawling to the ground in terror. Then it sucked in air and breathed out a cone of icy breath over the two fallen figures.
While Alan and Aodhan regained their feet, Mimi fled the dragon - running back across the ford – and Chadis started firing arrows into its flank.
The minotaur and the warrior stood bravely in front of the beast and began to hack at its hide. In response, it clawed at Aodhan and then bit at his head.
Seeing the bravery of her companions, Mimi ceased her flight and instead began to circle around the beast. She drew her dagger and leapt into the water behind it.
Bloodied by the blows from Aodhan and Alan, and from the arrows fired by Chadis, the dragon roared in anger and let out another burst of icy breath. As it breathed, Mimi sprung onto its back and stabbed her dagger deep into its flesh and Aodhan smashed his bulk into its flank and sent the creature staggering sideways, deeper into the stream. Mimi struggled to stay on its back as it roared and breathed again, knocking both Aodhan and Alan to the ground and rendering them unconscious. The creature steadied itself as they fell and Mimi took advantage of its pause to twist her dagger deeper into the wound she had made. Giving one final roar, it fell backwards into the deepest part of the stream. Mimi somersaulted free and watched the dying creature take its last breath with Chadis on the bank.
The cleric Garrah rushed from the trees and tended to the injured Aodhan and Alan. Sariel also approached and Chadis gave him the feyling’s scroll to decipher. The warlock recognised the ritual as one which would open a damaged portal. He told his companions that he could probably cast it if given a few moments to prepare.
While Sariel studied the scroll, Mimi and Aodhan snuck back into the cave and explored the dragon’s lair. They found there a pile of coins and gold, which they quickly bundled up and took with them.
By the time they returned Aodhan and Alan were back on their feet and Sariel was ready to begin the ritual. The ritual would take some time to complete, so Mimi decided to take a trophy from the dragon – cutting a horn from its head. As the portal opened, Aodhan decided he would take an even better trophy and started to hack the monster’s head from its shoulders.
Chadis led the prisoners through the portal and, at last, found himself back on familiar soil. On this side, the stone circle had been toppled and its stones broken. The prisoners and the ranger’s companions followed – Aodhan leaving it to the last moment to dive through the closing portal with his bloody trophy.
It took a day to reach Caer Callidyr. On the way the travellers passed a village they had seen on the ride north. The village was now a burnt out ruin, and on closer examination it appeared to have been that way for some time. The adventurers wondered how much time had passed since they had been in the Feywild.
As evening came, the adventurers rounded a hill and Caer Callidyr came into view. The city looked very different from when they left. The harbour, which had been full of ships, lay empty apart from the odd wreck. Open parks and plazas had been filled with tents and the smoke of cooking fires. Buildings which had lain outside the walls had been razed, either by assault or by the city’s own soldiers to prevent access to the walls.
The city gates were closed when the adventurers approached. Guards covered their approach with crossbows. As they drew close a shouted voice asked them to identify themselves and where they have travelled from. Chadis replied that they were the heroes Sir Leort had dispatched to rescue the Queen of Winter’s prisoners, and that they had returned victorious. Shouts of surprise echoed along the walls and a call went out for Sir Leort.
A door to the side of the gate swung open and a gaunt, one-armed man cautiously stepped forward. For a moment the adventurers did not recognise Sir Leort, and he did not recognise them. Then delight and surprise leapt into the knight’s eyes.
“Come inside” he said. “I had thought you all long dead. What on earth became of you, and where have you been?” Sir Leort motioned for the adventurers to follow him inside the guardroom and pulled up chairs and a flagon of wine. He listened in delight to their tale until Chadis asked how long they had been away, and what had transpired in their absence. At this Sir Leort grew grim.
“Well, I would guess that you have been away for the best part of a year.” He said. “The city has seen some terrible times since that first Quickling raid. Our fleet was lost in a sea battle against the navy of Amn, and many of our soldiers went down with the ships. The Queen of Winter has taken advantage and her attacks against us grow daily in strength and number. The villages and farms have mostly been abandoned to the fey and, if we had the ships, I suspect we all would have fled the city by now.”
He called for his squire Baki and she appeared shortly. Sir Leort told her to prepare to accompany him to the castle, for he had travellers with him who the King must see. Baki looked amazed when she saw the adventurers and begged for them to tell her their tale. They obliged, delighting the soldiers who had gathered outside the door to eavesdrop.
Sir Leort, encumbered by his injury, took some time to prepare for the castle. By the time he was ready the word of the prisoners return had spread, and people had begun to swarm onto the streets.
As Sir Leort led them through the city, the adventurers were cheered by a growing and adoring crowd. Occasionally they heard snatches of the tales being told. “They have been into the Feywild”, “they broke into the Queen of Winter’s fortress”, “they killed her dragon!” Aodhan brandished the dragon’s head to cheers and gasps.
The castle at Caer Callidyr is located on an island in the harbour and is attached to the shore by means of the seawall. By the time the party reached this seawall it was packed with a teeming throng of well-wishers. The gates to the castle swung open as they approached and Sir Leort led the adventurers into the sudden calm inside.
Inside the walls is a courtyard, and as the adventurers entered this they saw the young King hurrying down some stairs listening intently to an advisor whispering into his ear. When he reached the adventurers he looked up and a broad grin spread across his face. “I have just heard the most amazing tale. Is it true? Are these the prisoners taken last year and the heroes who rescued them?”
The adventurers repeated their tale for a third time while their royal audience hung onto every word. Eventually though, the King interrupted them. “It is very late and you must be exhausted. Please, make my home your own and we will speak again in the morning. I suspect that there is much you can tell me which will assist in our war against the Queen and her underlings.”
The King called for his Chamberlain, and instructed him to make the guest rooms ready and ensure that “his brave friends’ every desire is met”. The King then turned to the prisoners and spoke to them at some length.
The adventurers were treated royally by the King’s servants. Fine food and wine was served to them at the King’s own table, baths were drawn and filled with perfumes and petals, and gifts were showered upon them. When they retired, it was to chambers normally reserved for royal guests.
Chadis woke before dawn by a faint sound in his room. He opened his eyes and saw a note upon his pillow:
|All is not what it seems. I must see you before you speak to the King. Come to me at the old town cemetery as quickly as you can. I apologise for the creepy location, but it is the only place in the city where we will not be overheard. Bring your companions.
Chadis snuck from his chamber and woke his friends. They dressed quickly and slipped from the castle, avoiding guards and servants. The companions moved silently through the town and into the cemetery. Here they caught sight of Baki standing in the doorway to a mausoleum. She motioned for them to approach.
Nearer to the mausoleum the adventurers could hear Baki’s voice, chanting something quietly. They could also see a mist form and a portal appear within that. Suddenly anxious they drew their weapons.
Groans began to fill the air and corpses started to rise from the ground. Two more undead figures lurched from the mausoleum where Baki still stood.
Mimi, Aodhan and Alan dashed across the graveyard towards Baki. Chadis followed more slowly behind them, picking off of the animated corpses with his bow as she moved.
The companions were still confused about Baki’s intentions, and whether she was a victim or an enemy, but any doubts were erased when she drew her long bow and started firing at them. Two of the undead creatures stood in front of the elf, blocking all attempts to reach her until Mimi – assisted by a boost from Aodhan – somersaulted over their heads and lunged forward with her knife. Mimi’s bravery was rewarded with several swift and stinging blows, but she went down under a flurry of counter-attacks. Outside, Chadis found himself pursued by numerous undead, but he was able to keep retreating and picked his attackers off one by one. Inside the mausoleum Aodhan found himself surrounded once more, but he spun around and killed half a dozen of his opponents in a hail of blows. Baki herself did not last much longer as he and Alan brushed her aside with disdain in a rush to reach the injured Mimi.
Confused about why Baki had attacked them, the adventurers searched her body. Tucked inside her belt they found a note.
|My servant Baki,
My other spies tell me that those who invaded my realm have returned to Caer Callidyr. I task you with punishing them for their transgressions and with stopping them from telling the King what they have seen. Lure them to the cemetery and use the enclosed reagents to perform the ritual I have taught you. My servants will do the rest. When they have finished, hide the remains in the vents beneath the city.
Make ready the other arrangements as previously instructed. My soldiers will begin the assault upon the city walls at the crow’s first cry in two days’ time.
My favourite roleplaying memory - "Daisy at Colonus", two drunk cowboys and a pantomime cow in a 'reinterpretation' of Sophocles greatest play.