Our cast of players…
- Achmed (Dave): Human Thief, level 2.
- Albrecht (Rick): Human Priest, level 2.
- Pioden (Craig): Elf Warrior/Wizard/Thief, level 1/1/1.
- Tether (Dan): Human Warrior, level 1.
- Tomas (Alan): Human Paladin, level 1.
Total XPs awarded from the previous session: 750
Given your parlous state, you very wisely decide that it would be prudent to use the log cabin as a temporary base and rest up while you have the opportunity. Gratefully, you all make yourselves as comfortable as you can in the sparsely furnished cabin and exchange the occasional word or two while passing around some of Albrecht’s dwindling supply of trail rations. Achmed and Tomas are two exhausted to even speak and both have soon fallen into a deep sleep. With nearly all of you being at the end of your reserves of energy, you set only a cursory watch, with Pioden staying awake for a couple of hours before turning in himself.
The night passes uneventfully, but you all awake stiff and cold. Albrecht and Tomas carry out their morning rituals and devotions, and their supplications to the gods are answered allowing them to revive and revitalise the majority of you. Fired up by your improved physical state, you decided to return to the large snowdrift to the north and attempt to scale it. You leave the cabin and make your way back along the trail to the bridge over the frozen stream. The pond is exactly as you left it, with the icy grave of the unfortunate thief undisturbed, the body still frozen stiff behind it. Once more you rope yourselves together and begin the trip north-west along the side of the stream which gradually carves a ravine deeper and deeper until you reach the log crossing once more.
Striking north-east along the path you soon reach the sharp bend once more and again the wind picks up considerably, and snow dances and swirls in the air. The sound of the wind through the trees is somehow melancholy. As you strain to listen there is something else riding on the wind, a high, keening wail is blended in with the sound of the wind, a sound of grief and mourning. It is so unsettling that Achmed refuses to go any further, holding his hands to his ears and swaying in sympathetic time to the despair that is being transmitted on the wind. It is only after half an hour of alternately begging, cajoling, threatening and reassuring that the rest of you are able to persuade him to continue on.
You are finally able to press on as a group once more and, just as before, as soon as you round the curve to the east the wind lashes fiercely at you, blowing stinging snow into your eyes. You all wrap your snow gear more tightly around yourselves and proceed to the fifteen foot tall drift of snow and ice that blocks your progress eastward. It angles upwards at a little over 50 degrees, a steep but not impossible climb. You can now hear the sound of crying on the wind more distinctly – the keening is definitely coming from someone or… something.
Once more, Pioden takes his place at the front of the rope and starts the ascent, kicking holes into the icy barrier as he goes. Once at the top, he pulls his white hood closely around his face and risks a quick peek over the top of the immense drift. A large, circular clearing lies beyond the wall of ice and snow. The tree line surrounding the clearing is slick with hard packed snow and ice and the formidable wall seems to continue all the way around the perimeter of the clearing. In the center lies a large raised structure of frozen branches and limbs. The structure is roughly circular and is at least 10 feet high.
As the rest of you start to climb up the drift, Pioden decides to chance it and flips himself over the top of the drift, pressing himself tight to the other side of the wall of snow, using his white camouflage coverall to good effect. As he gets a slightly better perspective, he realises that the structure is an enormous nest of some sort! The high pitched keening is definitely coming from within the nest. So too are the freezing winds buffeting your faces and chilling you to the bone. Pioden can just make out a pair of large, feathery wings from some creature inside the nest.
Pioden is so intrigued that without waiting for the rest of you he starts to climb down the other side of the snow drift. As he does so, a tear-streaked woman’s face appears over the side of the nest and speaks directly to Pioden. “What have you done with my child?” she says, “my poor, poor child! Bring my children back to me! Have I not protected your precious fields and forests? Is this how I am repaid for my kindness?”
The woman seems to be becoming more agitated and as she rises up Pioden can see that she has the body of an enormous bird. She is colourful and majestic, her body the size of an ox and with beautiful gossamer wings. Her voice takes on an angry tone as she continues to address Pioden. “My children cry for me! The ice and snow, the tears of my first born. Curses upon those who would steal my children from my tender love!” As the rest of you scramble over the top of the snowdrift to witness this curious scene, Pioden acts on a hunch, cups his hands and shouts across to the nest, “we have found your eggs and bring them to you”.
“Is it true?” she replies in bewilderment, “have you found them? Bring them to me, my poor, precious children. They are lost and cannot find their way.”
With the rest of you following, Pioden climbs down the remainder of the snowdrift, crosses the and starts to scramble up the tangle of branches that make up the nest. The guardian of the Weeping Forest watches you with suspicion all the way but as soon as your are able you all produce the three whole eggs and the one broken one and present them to her. She weeps tears of the purest silver, which she collects and gives to you, one each, before gathering the crystal eggs beneath her. You can see from your vantage point at the edge of the nest that the bottom is littered with shards of many more of the crystal eggs.
Tomas recovers from the general astonishment the quickest, and speaks both boldly and courteously to the guardian. “My lady…?” he ventures. “Avoral,” she replies. “We seek news of what happened to one of our comrades. He was kidnapped and killed by raiders of whom we are in hot pursuit and followed into this forest. Do you have news of them?” The guardian moves to one side slightly and you can see that behind her lies a jumble of red and black leather armour and one or two of the larger human bones, picked clean. “They did not prove worthy and would not help me find my children. They provided me with sustenance in my grief,” the guardian states in a flat and level tone.
“Were they carrying any items of, err, interest?” interjects Achmed. The guardian looks slightly puzzled and then with the shrug of a wing indicates over the side of the nest. Following her glance, Achmed can see decades or even centuries of guano caked thickly onto the sides of the nest and the floor of the clearing. Undeterred, he takes the Eye of the Night and starts scanning the nearest pile of guano, eventually turning up a vial of the holy oil that you recall belonged to Octavian. Of him and the raiders, there is no other sign.
In the meantime, the rest of you quiz the guardian about what has happened here and she explains that she protects the forest and the nearby settlements from the depredations of those that would do it harm and provides the conditions that make this area such a uniquely fertile vale. This year, as every other, she lays four eggs, one for each season, and as they hatch they herald the arrival of the seasons. This year though, while she was away from her nest hunting, someone stole her eggs and it was obvious to her that the Egg of Winter had been broken open early, unleashing havoc on the local environment. Consumed by grief, her protection of the local area lapsed.
You fill her in on what you know and how you found the eggs, believing them to have been stolen by men from Oakenmeet. She assures you that now she has the eggs back, conditions will very soon return to normal. Already the bitter wind has died away. Thanking you profusely, she plucks out one of her pinion feathers for each of you and solemnly presents them. “Simply blow on these feathers in your hour of need,” she explains. Of the two she presents to Albrecht and Tomas she says, “these will summon weapons to aid you in your struggle.” To Achmed, “this will send a message unerringly to whomever you desire.” To Pioden, “this will summon a boat to transport you and your comrades wherever you wish.” To Tether, “this will render any waterborne craft immobile. Use them wisely.”
The guardian settles down in her nest and begins to roost, closing her eyes in contentment. Deciding that the moment to be discreet has come, you all scale down the side of the nest and climb back over the drift, retracing your path once more along the side of the ravine to the wooden bridge. Just as you get there, you hear distantly the sound of a new born crying on the wind and then it is gone, replaced by the steady drip of melting snow and ice as a blast of warm springtime air washes over you.
You cross the bridge for the last time and follow the path westwards, eventually finding that it joins up with the wedge-shaped clearing you explored yesterday. It is a simple matter to follow this back to the watchtower and thence to the trail leading back to Oakenmeet. By the time you leave the Weeping Forest, large patches of ice have started to melt and snow splatters on you from the trees as you walk. After the short walk to Oakenmeet, you see startled villagers milling around, looking in bemusement at the sudden arrival of spring. Sheets of snow are sliding off roofs and, at sight of you, a rousing cheer goes up from the village folk.
Armos emerges almost immediately and making his way over to you, he hugs you all in turn. “Bless you,” he says, “bless you all. We had all but given up hope and now the miracle of spring is here and the cycle begins once more.” He unashamedly brushes tears from his eyes. “Come, come,” he says, pulling you towards the tavern, “let us celebrate as best we can.” All the way he queries you about the guardian, Avoral. “Did you really see her? What was she like? Did she actually speak to you?” He seems as giddy as a schoolboy on his first day at grammaticus.
On entering the tavern you gratefully shed your now uncomfortably warm winter gear. Torvik comes straight over in astonishment and Armos is quick to speak. “You see, Torvik, there is a guardian in the forest. Praise her name and be thankful.” Pioden interjects, reprovingly. “You, my friend, should have more faith. There are matters in this world of which you understand little and should accept more.” Turning to Armos he adds, “and you need to be more in control of your people. It is greedy, selfish people from this village who caused all this.”
However, the recriminations are soon forgotten amid the joyous scenes. The villagers have little to offer other than ale and thin soup, but you make the best you can of the celebrations. Armos, somewhat self-consciously, offers you a reward of items dating back to his old adventuring days. “We have little to offer, but what we have is yours.” You accpet his gift of a fine purple cloak lined with silver and a longsword of superlative design.
With little to keep you hear in Oakenmeet, you stay overnight in the Weeping Forest tavern, before making preparations to leave for Hadler’s Gap, some three days travel to the west. Achmed is able to purchase some studded leather armour from the village tanner, but the villagers have no supplies to either give or sell you. As Albrecht’s trail rations are virtually exhausted as well as oats for Tarquin, it is going to be a long and hungry journey.
To be continued…