BEYOND THE ICEWALL (A Dragonlance Reign of Winter Story)


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This is the Reign of Winter adaptation that I played the last year. For those who know the original plot you will see that there are major changes into it.

We brought the story to our highly modified Dragonlance setting, and made a big mashup of things taking Irrisen beyond the Ice Wall. In our version of things, Winter Witches haven't changed the weather of a zone, they just rule over a frozen land.

We have also brought a lot of old retired and semiretired characters from other campaign into the game as secondary characters, who ended dramatically altering the course of the events. Even if the story starts mostly as written, changes start being evident in Mother, Maiden Crone and continue happening until the complete overwrite of The Revenge of the Witch Queen.

I was a player here, and I will be telling the story with the voice of my character, Kileanna. As it is my main alias too, to avoid the post from being confusing, I will use this one as my real voice, and Kileanna's alias for everything that is told in her voice.

Dalindra was the GM, and he will participate by sharing his GMing experience and some behind the scenes stuff that I might not know.

Even though it was a chaotic game, with players getting in and out due to crazy schedules and other issues, it was also the best gaming experience I had. It was my comeback to RPing after having lived a complicated situation, which makes this game somewhat special for me. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed playing it!

Of course, all feedback is welcome! I would love to hear anything that you have to say!


Elves in Dragonlance: Elves are divided into three different sub-races. The Silvanesti are reclusive and noble elves. The Qualinesti are the average elves from most settings. And Kagonesti are the wilder elves, who reject their cousins' civilized ways. They are pretty superstitious and spiritual, and often have tattoos depicting important events in their lives or the gods that they worship.

The Knights of Solamnia: they are an ancient and respected knightly order, mostly formed by humans of Solamnic heritage (they have started to accept half elves with Solamnic parents and humans from other heritage). They are lawful good at heart, but they are actually divided into factions and are somewhat paralized by political dissension. They don't accept any spellcasters who doesn't receive their spells from one of the gods they worship and they often fear and despise arcane magic. They have started allowing some wizards of Solamnic heritage to join their auxiliary corps, though.

The Endless Winter:A few decades ago, an almost godly white dragon took over the land of Southern Ergoth, home of the kagonesti elves, and turned it into a frozen wasteland. On a previous game, some heroes defeated the dragon and freed Ergoth from and Endless Winter. The land is still recovering from the damage, and seeing the first summer on decades. But the game is called Reign of Winter. Oh, damn.

Dramatis personae (in order of appearance):
Kileanna, a changeling vanilla witch who believes to be a kagonesti elf. Her patron is Time and she has a female snowy owl called Nina as a familiar. Her starting hexes were Evil Eye and Cackle.

Cat, a kagonesti vanilla slayer. She's an agile two weapon fighter who uses kukris as weapons, and also our scout and rogue-like character. She's an orphan who found Kileanna as a baby and raised her as her younger sister.

Indi, tempest druid worshipper of Zeboim, the goddess of the sea and storms. His mother is a Cleric called Jade who appeared on other campaigns. He doesn't want anybody to know that his full name is Indigo.

Talda'syn kagonesti ancient lorekeeper Oracle (he might claim to be a shaman, but that's his social position, not his class). His backstory is pretty interesting but I leave it to Dalindra to tell it when he think's it's the time (or maybe I will tell it later).

And with all the presentations made, let's begin with the story. Have in made that Kileanna is not a native common speaker. Her main language is elven so don't be too hard on her ;-D


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CHAPTER 1

My name is Kileanna, a good name for a kagonesti elf, I guess. It was the name my older sister, Cat, gave me when she found me as a baby, and the name I still bear. Wild elves change their names when they reach maturity, but I feel too attached to the name my sister gave me. Literally speaking, I still haven't reached maturity anyway, but neither am I really a kagonesti elf, so I guess that gives me the freedom to do whatever I want with my name... or my life.

It's not that my so called people would care a lot about it anyway. They let me know I was different, as long as I can remember. I have red hair, not red as autumn leaves but red as blood. It marks my future with war and spilled blood. A white streak reflects the disgust of the spirits of nature and different colored eyes mark me as a bad omen, a portent of bad luck. Kagonesti elves are superstitious folks, but how could I blame them for fearing me, when I knew that there was some kind of magic inside me, something I couldn't explain or understand? How could they not fear my magic if I too was as afraid of it as much as seduced by its whispers?

Of course, my sister didn't want to hear anything about curses or portents. It was one of those things she'd rather not speak about, like us not being sisters by blood or my magic coming from somewhere else than from beneficial spirits of nature. For her life was simple: I was her sister, she loved me, there was nothing wrong about me and that was all. If we weren't allowed to stay at one settlement because of me (she'd never admit it was because of me, but it was) we'd travel to the next one, and then on to the next one after that. If we needed food, she'd hunt for food. If she found no food, she'd steal some for us. If it was too cold, we'd keep traveling until we found a warmer place... as you can guess we never stopped moving for too long. We had to survive, and that was all that mattered.

I envy her simple way of viewing life. When I was worried about finding a place in the world, she was about making it to the next day. I needed to find myself, she had enough with finding a warm place to stay. She accepted me, but she never really understood me.

Now I realize how selfish I was then. While she worked hard to have all my necessities satisfied, and to give me a better life, I only cared for myself. I was still a child then, and children are selfish. She cared for me, so I could care for anything I wanted to.

Our world was small: it was only us two until I met Nina. She appeared one night, just before we were going to sleep. Yet she was there the next night, and the next night again. She just stayed there, perched in the nearest tree, staring at me with her yellow eyes all night. Even in my sleep, I could feel her glare.

It was when Nina appeared that I started remembering the nightmares. I had being having them since a few years ago, every single night, until I no longer remember how it was like having a normal night's sleep. I was afraid of sleeping. I didn't want to sleep alone, as if something terrible was going to pop out of my dreams and take me. But when I woke up, I could never remember what I had been dreaming. Until Nina came into my life. Then my nightmares became painfully clear:

I walked in a forest. My forest. There was no snow and a gentle breeze blew. It was warm and I was naked. A young attractive man walked towards me. Sometimes he was an elf, sometimes he was human and sometimes something entirely different. He smiled at me. I kissed him and started tearing his clothes off with my bare hands. I wanted him so much. Our bodies entwined. I had never felt better. And then I started ripping his chest open like I had done with his clothes. He cried and started panicking, but I overpowered him. I tore his flesh with teeth and claws. I tasted the blood and enjoyed it. I was terrified, but I couldn't stop. Then I realized I was dreaming and tried to wake up, but I couldn't. So I was forced to see everything, be a part of it, enjoy it.

I always felt like a dirty and evil person next day. I wanted to tell my sister about the nightmares, but I was afraid that she would think of me as some kind of monster. I couldn't assure her I wasn't. Because the nightmares felt so... appealing...

I never thought that Nina had anything to do with my nightmares. She just gave me the power to see them more clearly. Owls represent wisdom. But I really think that she had a lot to do with the other dreams. I dreamt about the past and the future, about people I forgot and people I hadn't still met. I saw a tree whose branches extended so high that I couldn't see where they ended and roots so deep that could reach the other side of the world. I saw a river that flowed eternally with no beginning or ending. It was the only calm sleep that I could get at night and I embraced it. I called it Eternity, because it was the Past, Present and Future. It was Everything. But it didn't have a name, and we mortals need to name everything.

I tried to explain Eternity to Cat, but she understood nothing. She realized that the innate magic powers that I had since early childhood were growing, but she saw it as a blessing from the spirits of nature. Maybe I had been enlightened by the gods. I didn't understand my magic, but I knew it was inside me. Eternity just whispered me the sercrets that taught me how to take advantage of it. How can one explain that to someone who knows nothing about magic, and is more willing to make up her own explanation than to listen? Sometimes Cat's simplicity bothered me. In the end, I just let her believe whatever she wanted to, as trying to reason with her was like speaking to a rock.

I felt guilty for not being able to be happy with my life, being just the two of us, as Cat was. I needed to find a place to call home, and to find someone who could really understand me. I felt like that existed somewhere and it was calling me in my dreams. I just couldn't settle with what I already had, because I had nothing but my sister. And that wasn't enough for me.

That's how my sister and I decided, after so many years wandering, to return to the place where she had found me as a baby. I had the feeling that the answers to all my questions weren't far away from there.


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CHAPTER 2
What seemed like an easy task wasn't. For those who don't know, hiring a passage on a ship when you're an elf is an odyssey in itself. Mariners are as superstitious as kagonesti and they think that having elves on board makes their goddess angry. So, even if this time we had enough steel to pay for our passages, nobody wanted us traveling with them.

So there we were at the port, with Cat about to pull up a fight with a merchant ship's captain and me pondering if Charming him would solve the problem or cause a bigger one. We had to hear the old "Zeboim doesn't want elves on her sea" excuse for the third time in a row. Cat was losing her patience. Suddenly a young well dressed human approached us. I hadn't noticed him before despite him being a remarkable human. He was tall and well built, with raven hair and beautiful eyes as blue as the night sky.

-Who are you to tell what Zeboim wants or doesn't want on her sea?- asked the young human with a smile.

The captain went pale.

-I want three passages to Ergoth. One for myself and two for the ladies.

I was too shocked to say a thing. Cat reacted defensively. Too many people had tried to take advantage of us all our life.

-We don't need your help! Who are you and what do you want from us?
-My name is Indi. I want to help because this man is not being fair with you. That's all.
-OK. But we don't need your help. My sister and I can take care of ourselves.
-Maybe we could use some help in securing a passage on that ship.- I intervened.- We can pay for it.

I pulled out my small bag of money.

-Hey! Where have you got all that steel?- Cat seemed surprised. I shrugged.
-I saved. I didn't feel there was anything I needed to spend it on.
-Whoa! My sister is rich!
Indi's bag of coins was like ten times heavier than mine, and he didn't make any attempt to conceal it. My sister was already giving it a hungry stare. I knew her enough to know what she was thinking: "should we just grab all this money and run?". The captain's eyes didn't look much different from my sister's. He was probably considering charging her a double price for our passages.
-I can allow them on board as long as you take responsability for any trouble they might cause.
Cat was about to complain, but I gave her one of my piercing stares, telling her silently to keep her mouth shut. We got what we wanted. We'd better not lose it because of her big mouth.
What happened next was surprising. Indi and the captain shared some quick words that I couldn't hear. Then we were allowed on board. For free. As long as Indi took care of us. The captain didn't seem happy.
-How did you make him change his mind?- I asked him when we were left alone.- He didn't even charge you for the passages!
-Sometimes showing your true colors makes things easier.- he toyed with a pendant depicting a spiked tortoise shell. I hadn't noticed it before, probably because I wasn't looking at his neck. It was some kind of holy symbol.- I don't usually wear it but sometimes it helps.
-What god is that?- I asked. Religion wasn't my thing.
-Zeboim. I think your people calls her Rann. Do you have a problem with me worshipping her?

He asked it in a polite tone. Rann was a goddess of darkness and the elves despised the gods of darkness.
-Not really.- I answered. Elves didn't like me either.- Just don't tell my sister about it. As you might have noticed, she has a strong opinion on quite a few matters.
Zeboim was the godess of the sea and the storm. I found amusing that he had probably threatened to call the wrath of her goddess on the ship if the captain didn't allow us on board. I didn't know what Cat would think of that, but I found Indi fascinating.


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Talda'syn's player was.. problematic to say the least. He left us really soon and never came back.

I'll explain Talda'syn's backstory when we reach that part. After all, he was not interested in creating a background for his character and I had to made it for him, so I know it quite well.


Maybe Talda'syn's player was problematic, but I think that the character added an interesting point to the story, and it made a good function to the story. After his great... intervention... we all knew that the thing was serious. It set a new mood to the story. I have been writing that part today (not publishing it yet, though, you'll have to wait until chapter #10) and remembering how everything happened. It was a good scene.

But let's go with chapter #3 now. Talda'syn won't be around until chapter #4.


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CHAPTER 3

The trip to Ergoth took us just a couple of days. Fortunately, the ship didn't sink. In fact, it was a placid and uneventful trip. It seemed like Zeboim wanted to laugh at the superstitious mariners, who didn't want to take us on their ship.

During that time we got to know Indi much better. He was the son of the highest representative of the Church of Zeboim on Kalaman. He had run away from home just to see the world, as he fekt it was about time to do so. From the way he talked about her, it seemed like his own mother had encouraged him to do it. Cat was a bit wary about him being a follower of a goddess of evil, but in the end she reasoned that it didn't matter. He was human, and humans were known for worshipping gods that elves never would.

Indi wanted to see the snow. That was his only motivation to travel to Ergoth. With the death of the dragon who had changed the weather, turning Ergoth into a frozen wasteland, the ice and snow was melting, meaning that we could return home. But Indi might have waited too long to travel to Ergoth, as snow there was most likely gone.

-We were told that there is no more snow in Ergoth.- I said.
-There is!- my sister was quick at correcting me. -There has to be some snow on the mountains! But they are very dangerous, you'll need a guide.

So that it was. Cat still wanted his money. Even for an open minded elf like her, it was unusual not to care at all about him being a worshipper of Darkness.

But Indi had been nice. He had helped us. I didn't really think he would need a guide and I didn't want to lie to him just for a few coins. But, you know, big sisters know better. So I kept my mouth shut.
I was also curious about Indi's goddess, so I asked him to tell me about her. I knew next to nothing about the gods, and nothing at all about the gods of Darkness. We talked for a long time. Then I invited him to my room. I think he probably misinterpreted me. Can I really say it was a misinterpretation? I liked him and I cannot say I hadn't imagined myself doing to him some things I had only done in my dreams. And in the end it happened. How it happened is blurry to me. I remember telling him that I was afraid. He said it was normal. I told him I didn't want to hurt him. He laughed at me so hard that he made all my worries seem irrelevant.

The next thing I can clearly recall was Cat, entering the room. Apparently we had been a bit... noisy. The first thing my overprotective sister thought was that Indi somehow was forcing me. She would have slashed Indi's throat if I didn't calm her down and told her that everything was fine. Even when everything was very clear, it still took her some time to believe what she was seeing.

-You realize he is human, right?.
-Of course. He is hairy.- I was laughing out loud. Indi was pale, Cat was confused and I couldn't stop laughing.
-And you don't care.

I cared. I liked that he wasn't an elf.

-At all.
-OK, then.

That was Cat's philosophy: if my sister thinks it's OK, it's OK.

After that she just left. Later that night she'd ask me enough questions to make me feel a bit awkward. I talked to Indi after that, to calm him down and to make sure that he didn't expect us to be engaged or something like that. Humans are strange. When kagonesti elves choose a partner they do for their whole lives, but nothhing keeps them from having some different mates before that happens. Humans... are strange. Specially noble humans. But we'll get to discuss that later.


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CHAPTER 4

Linsel was a small village in the Northwest of Southern Ergoth, not too far from Castle Eastwatch. The whole region was occupied by humans of Solamnic origins and protected by the Knights of Solamnia. If you asked them, they had been living there since times immemorial, but elves considered them mere guests, who had arrived just half a millenium ago. Time is such a relative measure.
Kagonesti elves would have thought the village was oppressive and unnatural, but I found it charming. It was near the coast and surrounded by woods. The trees were experiencing their first summer in decades and their branches were heavy with fruit. The Dragon Overlord was dead and the endless winter was over.

-Look, Cat! It's summer!- I cheered.

Cat was as excited as me, but Indi looked disappointed. He wanted snow. What I really wanted was to have some fruit, but I didn't grab any. Humans tended to think they could own the trees and got angry when we took "their" fruit.

We were still walking around the town, and amusing ourselves with the sight of a winter-free Ergoth, when a man approached us.

-Have you just got here?- he asked, and then he added without waiting for an answer:- Is any of you a healer?
-Sort of.- answered Indi.- Why?
-We have just found a seriously injured man. I don't think he can make it without some help from the gods.
-My sister is a powerful shaman. She can help.
-Sure but...- what should I say? "That's not what I am"? If I wasn't, what was I, then?- Take us to him.

The man led us to a cottage not too far from there. He knocked on the door, and it opened.
-I found help. They are priests.
-We've already found someone.- said the human inside the cottage.- He is being attended.

A head came out from the door and looked at us.

-Ah, you came with him. Come in.

I didn't know what he meant but I did as I was told. If there was a wounded person in there I wanted to help. That I also was curious was irrelevant. The cottage had just one room, and just one bed. Over it laid an aged man with blackened wounds all over his body. I had lived too many years of constant winter not to be able to recognize severe frostbite. But it was someone else who caught my attention. Kneeling next to the bed was an elf. A kagonesti elf. My heart stopped beating for a second. We were in human territory. What was he doing here? I forced my legs not to start moving backwards. The elf turned to face us. He was surprised too.

-I didn't expect to find more kagonesti here. My name is Talda'syn.

We introduced ourselves. The humans were surprised that Talda'syn and us hadn't met before. You know, if you are an elf you automatically know all the elves on Krynn.

Talda'syn told us that he had healed the worst wounds the man had, but he couldn't do anything about the frostbite. He asked us if we could help, but neither Indi nor me had magic powerful enough to help him. We could only try to warm him up and hope that it was enough. If it wasn't we might have to amputate the damaged limbs before they started to rot. I had seen it before and it wasn't pretty.

After some time the human regained consciousness. We were all anxious to question him about: how had he suffered severe frostbite during the summer? Were the minions of the White Overlord still hiding somewhere near? Despite our curiosity we were willing to let him rest some more before questioning him, but it was him who adressed us desperately.

-They took her.- he mumbled.- I couldn't protect her.
-They took who?- asked Indi.
-Lady Argentea. They attacked us, killed everybody and then took her with them.

The man, called Yuln, was still a bit confused, but after some questions we learned what had happened. He was a Knight of Solamnia and personal protector of Lady Argentea Malassene, a noble woman of Solamnic heritage. They were heading Southwest through the woods, so Lady Argentea could meet her suitor. He was the Commander of Castle Eastwatch, the main settlement of the Knights of Solamnia in Southern Ergoth, and she was expecting to join him there. Then they had been attacked. The attackers were just bandits at first; but then tiny flying creatures, that Yuln recognized as fey, had joined the fight. They had fought them, but they were quickly overwhelmed. After slaying everybody on the caravan except Lady Argentea and Yuln, the bandits took her, while the fey covered their retreat with their tiny frost arrows. Yuln had tried to follow them but he was unable, so he returned to the village to try to get some help. As a good Solamnic man he was willing to go after the kidnappers again and get himself killed. We valued his life more than he apparently did, and wouldn't let him do it.

-My sister and I are traveling in that direction anyway. We can look for her.- I answered. Cat looked at me like "are you really sure you want to get involved in this?"'. She loved adventures, but only if I wasn't involved. She had to keep her younger sister safe.

-I have to investigate what's happening.- added Talda'syn.- I've come here because I've heard rumours of strange weather in the woods. If I find your Lady, I'll do my best to help her.

Indi shrugged.

-I'm going there too, so, why not?

He didn't mention that his motivation was seeing snow for the first time. With lives at risk he probably thought that saying that would make him seen frivolous.
So this is how we started a trip that would take us to the most unexpected places. Cat and I were returning home, but we were taking the long way around.


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Talda'syn was the apprentice of the Kagonesti Lorekeeper, the elf responsible from keeping the lore and memory of the race. Kagonesti elves don't have written language, so the Lorekeeper role is a very important one.

When Sylvyana enslaved the kagonesti elves and turned them into ravenous cannibals, Talda'syn was one of the affected; he did very nasty things while corrupted, killing and feasting on his master the worst one. When they were purified, Talda'syn couldn't cope with what he did and he flew, trying to find redemption. He didn't understand the role he had to play as Lorekeeper, either, so this was going to be a self-discovery travel for him.

When I created this background for the character, I thought it would fit well with the other characters. You see, Kileanna was sort of a pariah among kagonesti. Cat was also a pariah by association and although she had not been corrupted by Sylvyana she had been fooled to help one of her followers. And Indi... well, he was the only not-kagonesti in the party and also a Neutral follower of an Evil goddess. And the elves are very strict with that things.

All in all, they were a party of pariahs trying to find themselves while saving the world. It should have worked, right?

But Talda'syn's player was only interested in antagonizing the other players (players, not characters). Ugh.

He also believed his character was inmortal because "he is one of the protagonists and they will always win". When I told him that in my stories you have to earn the victory and that characters could in fact die he didn't believe me. Sadly he learned it the hard way. Even though I always try to help my players, Reign of Winter is the story with the highest PC death score I've ever GMed.


Anyway, I think the addition of this player was somewhat beneficial for the story. He helped me to define my character's disgust for her own race that would guide her into some decisions later in the game. I actually enjoyed him being somewhat aggressive to Kileanna, it depicted well how she was seen by her people.
And he also allowed the other players to realize that this story was serious and complicated. And that you were going to be coherent no matter what happened.

And yeah, the story was lethal. I counted today 10 deaths, counting relevant characters, not only party members. Two characters died twice. And all deaths made the story more intense and deep!

Damn! I loved this campaign!


I don't know... Talda'syn wasn't that bad. He wasn't worse than the other kagonesti. I think he was somehow trying to help me. It's just that I have gotten sick of too many people trying to help by telling me how wrong being myself is, you know.

And you sadistic spirit of the derailment! Don't talk about us dying like we did it for your amusement!


Hey there! I don't know if someone is reading, but in affirmative case, I have a question for you:
I have 13 chapters written so far. Would you prefer me publishing on a daily basis until I am done with them, or would I better wait a few days between chapters so they aren't so overwhelming?


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Post at your own pace. Don't wear yourself out.


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Thanks for sharing your opinion, John!
CHAPTER 5

We didn't want to delay our departure more than necessary, so we just bought a couple of items at the market and continued our trip. We purchased some alchemist fire, if we were going to fight creatures that were born of the cold we would need it, and Indi bought a healing wand. I had never seen one of those that close, and I was impressed. I thought he had to be very, very rich to be able to afford it. Ah, that younger version of myself!

We had been told that the location of the attack would be easy to find. We just had to follow the road that led to Castle Eastwatch for no more than a couple of hours by feet. The weather was nice. Indi thought it was too cold for a summer day, but he was a foreigner. People from the North are always feeling cold. Cat and Talda'syn were getting along well. Talda'syn was not as talkative as Cat was, so my sister did almost all the speaking. He told her that he was a shaman and he was on a personal quest. What kind of quest? He didn't look like he was ready to tell nor my sister wanting to ask. She had other ideas in her mind for him.

-My sister is a Shaman too!- "Here we go again" I thought- She can speak with spirits. Nina is her spirit guide. It seems that you have many things in common.

I gave her the evil eye (metaphorically). She wanted so badly for me to fit in. If it was for her, I would fall in love with Talda'syn, he would realize how fantastic and incredible I was and he would make me forget about past embarrasing events involving a ship travel and a human. But that wasn't going to happen. I had given up on the kagonesti elves. I would never be one of them.

Talda'syn turned back to face me, as he suddenly had taken some interest in me. An interest that I'd rather avoid.

He asked me questions that I couldn't answer. I didn't know where my magic came from, nor I was completely sure that "shaman" was the right word to describe me. I have to admit that the conversation was going better than expected. He was confused by my explanations, but he wanted to help me to understand my magic better. He wasn't as bad as I had expected.

Until my... peculiarities... were brought to account. He believed that I carried marks that made me anathema to the spirits of nature. In a former life I had done something terrible and they had branded me with disparate eyes, and blood colored hair, so everyone would realize what I had done. Now that I think of it, I know that I reacted disproportionately. So he was saying that I deserved to be mistreated and ostracized because I had done something that I didn't even remember having done? He thought I should repent for crimes commited on a past life, but I had done nothing wrong!

-What if I don't want to be redeemed? I am sick of all of you thinking that I have to be ashamed of being myself.
-That's not what...
-I don't need redemption for something I didn't do.
Talda'syn realized that I couldn't be reasoned with at that moment, so he didn't try to continue the discussion. In retrospective, I think he was just trying to help and that I chose to misinterpret him. I didn't want to like him.
-You have to understand her,- said Cat- she's still a child.

I had to fight the urge to cry out loud "I am not a child!". That would probably have been a very childish thing to say.

Meanwhile, Indi didn't have a clue of what was going on. He didn't speak a single word of elven.


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Posting another one today because I was told the former was too short

CHAPTER 6
When we got to the site of the attack we were on a good mood again. We were asking Indi about life in Kalaman and he was unsuccessfully trying to explain to the three of us what was wrong with bathing naked on the port. That he also thought that it was a stupid law didn't help us to understand it better.

Definitely, the weather was starting to get colder. A chilly wind blowed and we could see some dark clouds in the woods. We spotted the caravan from a distance, on a segment of the road where the surrounding vegetation was thicker. A good place for an ambush. As we came close, Indi noticed that the ground was covered by a thin layer of snow. He would probably had been more excited if there weren't dead people everywhere. Even the horses had been slain. It was a massacre. Next to the woods there was a single man standing, facing back to us. We cautiously approached him, until we were close enough to realize that he was frozen solid. He had some body parts missing, as if someone had ripped them off. I had never seen anything as terrible as that.

-These won't move, will they?- I asked, pointing to the corpses. I had heard stories.
-If they do, we'll kill them again.- answered my always pragmatic sister.
We readied our weapons, just in case we needed them.
-Wouldn't you rather use a bow?- asked Talda'syn when he realized I was holding a sling.
-I never learned. Cat tried to teach me, but I didn't try to learn.
-And I ended giving up. We were too busy surviving. Hey, this sword is good!

Cat was examining the frozen corpse while we were talking. She was holding a sword made of good steel and crafted with Solamnic motives.

-Does anybody want it?
-It's the sword of a knight. Maybe we should return it to the Solamnic Lady.- "If she is still alive" I added to myself.

Talda'syn and I examined closely the bodies. All of them had cuts and stabs, but they also had small punctures surrounded by cold burns. I had never seen anything like that.

We got to the wrecked carriage first, which was ocompletely empty. We found some dresses inside a chest. I thought they were the most beautiful dresses I had ever seen. Cat didn't like them because she found them too human. Indi said something about them being some kind of uniforms for a handmaiden, but I couldn't tell the difference. They still were beautiful and I insisted on keeping at least one of them.

The other carriage was locked and Cat heard someone inside. I didn't hear anything but she said it sounded like someone weeping. We tried to be cautious, so Talda'syn and I climbed to the top of the other carriage. Cat unlocked the door and opened it from one side, while Indi backed her up from the other side and Talda'syn and I readied our ranged weapons.Two figures limped out of the carriage. They wore tattered clothes, very similar to the ones we had found iinside the chest. Two young women, covered in blood and with terrible wounds that exposed their flesh, stared at us with blank eyes.

-They are not alive! They are not alive!- cried Talda'syn, alarmed.

My sister stepped up, looked to the dead woman up and down for a second and, with a quick wrist movement, slashed her throat. She didn't even try to dodge. I was surprised by her cold-blooded reaction: she didn't look different from when she was hunting for food. The dead maiden didn't seem to notice the hit. With an expressionless face, she raised a hand and tried to hit Cat. She dogded with the agility of the animal after which she had named herself, and attacked again, delivering another blow that would have killed a living creature. Meanwhile, I kept missing all my hits, and both Talda'syn's arrows and Indi's quarterstaff were next to useless. Being already dead, they were difficult to kill.

Indi dropped his staff and tried his luck with a dagger, while the undead focused on attacking Cat. My sister took two consecutive blows and I started fearing for her life.

-Step back!- I cried at her.

It might be a waste of resources but I had to save her. I threw a flask of alchemist fire to the creature... and missed my hit by a kilometer. Being undead, my magic was useless against her. I felt powerless. Talda'syn imitated me, throwing another flask of alchemist's fire to the one that was still unharmed, trusting Cat to deliver a lethal blow to the other. But she didn't: Indi stroke first. Cat just stepped forward and dealt a specially lethal strike to the one who was still on her feet. We had made it. Well, the others had made it, as I had done nothing but missing all my attacks.

Indi provided some healing to Cat and, with the threat over, she went on examining the place more closely. There were anything that could be anybsort of clue, but my sister found a jewelry box inside the carriage.

-Look, Kileanna, we are rich! This must be worth at least a thousand steel pieces!

Again, I had to burst her bubble.

-This has already an owner.
-Oh, yes, Lady Whateverthename.- she was disappointed.- I hope she isn't, but she's probably dead.
-They took her for a reason. They wanted her alive.
-You're right. These are good news!

Indi looked at the corpses of the young women that had been animated just a few minutes ago.

-Good news, indeed.-he had a grim look on his face.- We should better keep moving.


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An illustration I made for Chapter 2.
Kileanna and Cat meet Indi. Kileanna is pleased to meet him, but Cat doesn't trust strangers.


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CHAPTER 7

Cat found a trail, not far from the frozen man, that led into the woods.

-They are traveling on horseback.- she said. Even though she was a experienced tracker, this trail was so obvious that even I could have followed it.
It was snowing in the woods. The ground was covered in a thick layer of snow, and a chill wind was blowing. The weather changes weren't gradual: as soon as we entered the woods it was winter.
-This is not natural.- protested Talda'syn.
-It can't be. But it's beautiful.- Indi was as excited as a child. For a northern human who hadn't seen a real winter all his life it had to be an impressive view.
-But the dragon is dead. How can this be happening?- asked Cat.
-We have to find out.- I have to admit that I felt more intrigued than scared.

Cat scouted ahead. Not too far, we found a discarded chest at the side of the trail. It looked like someone had dropped it, but I feared it could be a trap. After my sister examined the chest, she found a buried rope tied to a log, wich would fall on whoever tried to open the chest.

-Don't worry. I just have to grab the rope tightly while I cut... Whoops!

I saw the rope slipping from Cat's hands, but I didn't have time to react. We had tried not to be too close to my sister while she disabled the trap, but we still weren't far enough. Cat dodged the log like she had been doing it all her life, while Indi and I didn't even see it coming. Fortunately for Indi, I took most of the blow and mitigated the impact. Unfortunately for me, I broke two ribs. I wanted to stand strong but it hurt a lot.

-Why do you hate us so much, Cat?- I said, laughing to avoid crying.- I didn't know that you wanted me dead!

After some healing from the wand, my chest still hurt, as my wounds were minor we decided that we shouldn't waste more resources.

The snow got deeper as we continued our advance. Walking was near to impossible on the most thickly covered areas. Visibility was terrible because of the wind and the falling snow. I never knew what hit me. I spotted a shadow falling upon me from the corner of my eyes and then a heavy hit, sudden pain and nothingness. Then I was laying on the snow, with everybody looking at me with a worried look on their faces. The monster that had attacked us laid next to me, with its throat sliced open. It vaguely resembled a small dragon but I hadn't seen creature like that in all my life.

-Do you feel better?- asked Talda'syn, while Indi used another charge of his wand to get me back into shape.

I stood up, and I realized that I had been laying in a pool of my own blood. I could have died.

-Come on, we're leaving.- Cat grabbed me by the arm. I struggled and released myself.
-What?
-We shouldn't even be here. We're not getting paid for this. We can just walk around this death trap instead of crossing it. The Solamnic Lady can save herself.

Cat usually cared a lot for other people, but not as much as she cared for me. She'd probably be really excited with the quest if i wasn't around. But she had to protect her younger sister.

-I am fine. We can do this. I am prepared.- my claims would be easier to believe if I had done something useful so far.- You seem to think I am still a child but...
-You're only sixty two!

Talda'syn looked at me, surprised. I was very tall, more than most elves and many half elves. I had met adult humans who weren't taller than me. He probably expected me to be older.

-We can do it. There is someone in danger and...
-It's not our responsibility!

I have to admit I was actually more interested in proving myself than in rescueing someone I didn't even knew. And if I know Cat well enough (and I do), she really wanted to help, but her first priority was keeping me safe.

-I am going. With or without you.
Of course, she wouldn't leave me alone or force me to go with her, so I knew I was winning this round. She gave me her best big sister scowl and said nothing more.


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Seriously... Who thought that an ambushing Tatzlwyrm was a good idea? At level 1? And attacking the least armored character? There was nothing that my players could do save for praying for a low damage roll. It could have easily ended with a dead character before they even realized they were under attack. Even with a maxed-out Perception it was near impossible to spot. Not cool.

Well, enough ranting. For those of you that know Reign of Winter the next parts are going to be strange. Two-three months before starting this AP I had to improvise a short story, and you know what? Yes, I GMed the High Sentinel Lodge part. Two of my players (Kileanna and Cat) had already played that part with other characters, so I changed some things. This time there was snow, some encounters were out, some were changed, some new ones were in... I was not very satisfied with the result (I thought it was not different enough), but my players didn't notice it.

Fun fact: Cat was originally Ten-Penny Tacey in that short story, but one of my players had just fell in love with the character and asked me to play her in RoW. I accepted with the condition that he expanded her background and made the character his. He did really great!

I also started to change some things in the adventure. I was not happy with this AP being such a railroad, so I started changing things so the characters had real choices. No spoilers by the moment, but the sixth book was entirely homebrewed!


It all started with very subtle changes, but the homebrewed stuff we added to make it fit our previous campaigns started to take over some parts of the story and building some new and completely different storylines. The two first books were mostly played as written with a few homebrewed things, but as we got back to Ergoth in the third book, a lot of things started to happen.
We got characters from old campaigns around, playing relevant roles, and they ended affecting the main plot.
I am really excited to write everything down.
Also, I am planning to make some quick sketches as illustrations. Suggestions for scenes to depict are welcome!


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CHAPTER 8

After being so close to death, I decided that we should be more cautious, and sent Nina to scout ahead.

-Come back if you spot something.- I told her.

Nina nodded and flied away. Not even a single minute had passed before she was back. She looked scared. I asked her about what she had seen but, as I couldn't understand her language, I could only understand that it weren't enemies but something different. Maybe a trap.

We continued advancing with caution, until we spotted what had disturbed Nina: crows. A lot of them. They were perched on the branches of the trees at both sides of the trail. Staring at us.

-They are not moving.- said Cat.
-They are dead.- realized Indi.

Someone had taken time and effort to carefully place some dead birds on the branches of the trees. It was macabre.

I called the magic inside me to be able to see magic auras. Indi's wand had a pale glow, but everything else was normal.

-It's OK, they are just dead crows. No magic.- I said. Both Indi and Talda'syn looked at me suspiciously.
-What kind of magic was that?- asked the elf.
I shrugged.
-My own.- I answered. But before I could explain anything else a volley of tiny arrows came out from nowhere. I had caught some attention with my magic.
One of the projectiles stung me and I felt my flesh freezing. The falling snow hindered our visibility and we weren't able to spot whoever had attacked us.
-Fey, like Yuln said!- cried Indi.
-Take cover into the buhes!- commanded Cat.

I followed my sister.

-Stay together! Don't split!
Despite my statement, a single bush wasn't enough to grant cover for all of us, so we had to split into two groups. Before we could reach a safe place, another volley of arrows fell upon us.
-I've seen one of them!- said Cat, pointing to a nearby tree. She pulled out her bow, but the winds were too strong and the visibility too bad for her to see anything. She dropped it with a grunt of frustration.

At least we were safe within the cover of the bushes. The fey couldn't aim their bows at us. But we couldn't attack them either. And they were patient. If we remained hidden, we would freeze to death sooner or later.

A melodic voice rang out from one of the nearby trees, chanting words of power. I recognized a spell to create illusory lights. Unsurprisingly, a few moments later we saw some glowing silhouettes on another tree. Cat pointed at them.

-It's a trap!- I whispered.- They are trying to lure us out.

So we came up with a plan: Indi would get out and summon a mist to grant us some cover. We counted on the faeries getting out to attack Indi so we could spot them before they hid again. Then we'd just charge into their position using the mist to keep them from targeting us. I was pretty sure that I could get them to the ground, even if I had to expose myself too much and spend my best spell.

Everything went as expected. We worked beautifully as a group. An arrow hit Indi, but he wasn't seriously harmed. Cat pointed to a tree, where there were a few of them, and then moved through the mist. Because of the illusory lights, I didn't know how many of the lights were real fey and how many weren't. I got out from my hiding place so I could have a clear view of the place.
-It's bedtime, kids!- I chuckled, and chanted the invocation of my best spell.
Two tiny blue winged creatures fell from the tree, asleep, awakening as they hit the ground. Cat and the others were ready to pick up the fallen fruit. I cannot tell the specifics on how they finished off the fey (they were inside the mist), but I am pretty sure that there were some slit throats involved.
Before I could get back to cover, the last of the fey shot an arrow at me and missed.

-I can see you!- I spotted her on the fly and used a spell to numb her mind for a few seconds: time enough to bring her to the ground.

Talda'syn got out from the mist and threw a flask of alchemist's fire at the dazed fey. She cried out of pain. Then my overprotective sister followed, demanding to know who was attacking me. Despite of her natural resistance to damage, the fey was outnumbered. She tried to retreat to the air, but some more alchemist fire brought her down before she could escape. We had survived another ambush.
I knelt by the fallen faeries while Indi was healing our wounds.

-They are still alive.
-Understood.- answered Indi, unsheathing a dagger.
-Wait! What are you doing?- I cried.
-We are not going to kill them, they are no longer a threat!- said Talda'syn.
-Until someone heals them up. They are probably going to die anyway. We would just be doing it quicker.

We still hadn't met Indi's pragmatic side so it caught us by surprise. Elves think of life as something you have to revere and preserve by all means, so the idea of killing the fallen enemies who were no longer a threat was alien to the three of us.

-OK,- aggreed Indi at last- I hope we don't have to regret it later. Now let's keep moving if we don't want to freeze here.
-Wait.
I casted a basic spell to keep one of the faeries from bleeding to death. The other two had already stabilised by their own.
-What was that?- asked Indi, confused.
-Not helping is the same as killing.- I answered.
-I mean, you didn't invoke any deity or spirits to do your magic. That was not the magic of the Gods.
-It was my own magic.- I shrugged. I couldn't provide a better answer.
-You said that you were some kind of priestess or shaman, that spirits spoke to you.
-Eternity, my... guide, teaches me though Nina. I just learn. But the magic is mine.
-That's not how shamanic magic works.- added Talda'syn.
I didn't like to be spoken to like I had been lying. I didn't even know how my magic worked. How could I explain it?
-You know nothing! She's a shaman, and this is not the right place for a discussion.
My sister knew for sure how to end an unpleasant conversation.
-You're right. We'll have time to talk about that later.- aggreed Talda'syn.

I never had that conversation with Talda'syn again.


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Very compelling reading. Thanks Kile.


Thanks for the kind words! Sometimes I am even unsure if people is actually reading or I am just writing for myself, so any feedback is very appreciated.
Thank you so much for reading ^—^


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<.<

>.>

We are reading.

And waiting for more.


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Thanks for making me know, Drejk! It means a lot!

CHAPTER 9

Following the trail, we got to the riverside. There wasn't a bridge, but the stream had frozen. In front of us, by the river, there was a snowman with a wooden sign ahead of it. The words "Trespassers Turn Back" were written in human language.

It took us some time to decide whether to destroy the snowman from a distance or leave it unmolested. Finally we aggreed that the best idea was to look for another place to cross the river and don't touch anything. It smelled like a trap (and I am using Cat's literal words).

Tying some rope to a tree we managed to climb down to the slippery surface of the river and with extreme caution we crossed to the other side. It took us some time and it was pretty tiring, but at least we didn't step into an obvious trap.
After crossing the river and getting back to trail, we heard voices in the distance.

-Rokhar might have commanded us to work with you, but you aren't going to have any loot. You did nothing at all.

Silence.

-I don't care if you are Nazhena's son.- continued the same voice.- She's not here now.
Cat made a silent gesture, telling us to stay quiet, and then another, telling us to follow her. We weren't as stealthy as her, but our targets were distracted. Under the cover of the trees we managed to approach enough to have a clear sight of them. There were four humans. Three of them were hunters or bandits for the look of them. The fourth, who was taller and wore better clothes, looked like a warrior or a young nobleman.

My sister led a quick assault. Before they could react, we were on them and one of them had already fallen. We didn't even have to use powerful magic against them: my companions went on melee with them while I stayed back and gave them the evil eye. I cursed two of them with clumsiness so they couldn't dodge and then I laughed at them until the fight was over. At that point I guess both Talda'syn and Indi thought I was insane, but that was how my magic worked.

Two of the bandits were dead, a third one was unconscious and the last one surrendered when he realized that he wouldn't be able of running away. The taller man had just stayed there, watching the fight, doing nothing. It appeared like he was going to attack us when one of the bandits commanded him to do so, but the battle ended before he could do anything, and he didn't seem like he wanted to pick up a fight with us. He just stayed there, motionless and expressiveless, watching how we stabilized the unconscious bandit and tied the hands of the one who had surrendered. When we demanded him to hand over his weapons he did it without hesitation.
We took them to a safe place to interrogate them. Thanks to the only bandit who remained conscious, we learned of a near cottage in the woods where we could be safe for a while. It used to belong to a farmer, but the bandits had slayed him on Rohkar's (that seemed to be the name of their leader) command. The cottage consisted of a single room with a fireplace and a straw bed. That was enough for what we needed.

The tall, blonde man, didn't have any memories aside the ones from the last week and also told us that he had no name. The other conscious survivor insisted that he believed that the man wasn't human at all, but a monster of some sort created by Nazhena's magic.

-Who is Nazhena?- demanded Indi to know.
-Rohkar's associate. She is a witch.

Saying that she was a witch was almost the same as saying nothing. "Witch" was a word often used to refer to any kind of spellcaster on a despective way. I got called a witch quite often, and it usually meant that Cat and I had to leave the place in a rush.

The bandit didn't seem to know much more about Nazhena, and the big blonde wasn't giving us much insight about her aside from "she is my mother" so we inquired them about Rokhar. The big blonde, again, couldn't say much, but the other one revealed that their leader was a priest of some sorts and that he worshipped Chemosh.

-The Ravenous Crow.- grunted Talda'syn with a grim look on his face. Cat's eyes narrowed and I saw the shadow of rage covering them.

The Ravenous Crow, as he was known among the Kagonesti, was the god of death, judge of souls and father of the undead. It was his chosen one who had corrupted and enslaved many of the Kagonesti elves, turning them into ravenous cannibals. I knew that my sister had had some kind of non amicable encounter with one of his followers a short time before we got back to Ergoth, but she didn't talk a lot about it and, when she did, she just mumbled a bunch of curse words. Talda'syn also seemed to have something personal against the Ravenous Crow and his followers, but he said nothing and we asked nothing.

The bandit also revealed that Rokhar also had some sort of ally sent by Nazhena who was called Izoze, and who was a winged blue creature like the faeries we had encountered before, but, according to the bandit's words, way bigger and uglier. They were operating from a hunter's lodge not too far away from our location, which they had occupied after having slayed everybody living in it. I was shocked after hearing that. I knew they were a bunch of bandits and death cultists, but hearing one of them talking so lightly about taking lives made me really angry. A part of myself wanted to take his life, slowly and painfully, in return.

When it was obvious that we wouldn't get much more information from the bandit, we tied him up with a long piece of rope so he could get to most places on the cottage and take care of his wounded companion. We couldn't let him free to warn Rokhar but we couldn't just kill him and let his fellow die like Indi suggested. That would be just wrong. Very wrong. Seductively wrong.

The blonde was a bigger issue. He looked inoffensive, but he was supposedly one of our enemies. I was really intrigued by him, but he could also be dangerous. In the end, after a long discussion, we decided to leave him behind, unarmed, to watch over the two bandits. We commanded him to take care of them and wait for us to return. Was it a good idea? Probably not (despite being me the one who suggested it) but we were inexperienced and we weren't able to come up with anything better.

Knowing that Rokhar could notice the absence of his followers and that we had already spent a long time questioning them, we decided to get back to the road. We shouldn't be too far away from their base.


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Who. Is. That. Blonde. Guy?

No, don't bother searching for him in the book. He is entirely homebrewed. Previously I had stated that I had to cut some encounters, so I had to develope some new ones. However, this encounter didn't go according to planned.

I had planned an encounter where it was pretty obvious that Blonde Guy was a reluctant warrior, obeying the bandits like he was mind-controlled. The party defeated the bandits before Blondie could make his first move. Sigh. I had to improvise and Blondie ended with a child-like personality.

This character's backstory would be discovered as they continued the adventure. My aim here was to let them know about what a lovely person Nazhena was and start seeding alternate ways to end the adventure. Have I said I hate railroads?


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CHAPTER 10

We sent Nina ahead as a scout, and she came back soon, visibly altered. We used our usual code to communicate: whenever I posed a question, any kind of reaction by her side meant "yes" while inactivity meant "no". After two questions I learned that there were two enemies ahead, not human, not animal, not alive. We approached cautiously. There was a long way up the hill, and the Sentinel's lodge should be right on the top. A couple of humanoid figures were walking down the trail. Maybe someone had already noticed the bandits' absence?

As we got closer it became obvious that the figures weren't alive: they didn't have any flesh and only some parchments of skin over their bare bones, which were covered by a thin layer of frost. I had never seen a walking skeleton, and I felt as fascinated as terrified by them. I was unsure of what I could do against them. My magic was useless. So I stayed backwards, missing all hits with my slingshot, while Indi and my sister charged towards them. Both cried in pain as they got close, but I couldn't see what had hit them.

-You should take a bow, you know?- said Talda'syn, while aiming a perfect shot between the ribs of one of the skeletons.
-You aren't doing any better!- I yelled.
-Stop arguing!- cried Indi.- Cat, step back, step back!

My sister delivered a hit that should have gouged the creature's eye out and stuck into its brain, if it had eyes or brain to begin with. Then she made what Indi said, and a gust of flames came right out of our human friend's hands. That seriously harmed the skeletons, but they were still moving and coming after us.

-And there went my only fire spell.
Seeing that they seemed specially vulnerable to fire attacks, I mounted a flask of alchemist's fire on my slingshot. Again, I missed by a mile.
-Tell me it wasn't our last flask of alchemist's fire too.

Talda'syn's worried look was enough answer.

-We have to retreat.- he said.

Even Cat found it to be a good idea. We got into the woods and soon the skeletons lost track of us. As everything calmed down, I realized that both Indi and my sister had suffered severe frostbite. It was a miracle that Cat was still standing by her own.

-The air around them is unnaturally cold.- explained Indi.- We shouldn't get close to them.
-They are mindless.- I said.- Our best chance is to avoid them.

"Like it is so easy" I thought.

After waiting a while, we made our way to the lodge again. This time the way was clear, as Cat informed us after scouting ahead. We approached as cautiously as we.could, but there was no one to be seen. The lodge was a two store wooden shack built in the middle of a clearing in the woods. It wasn't bigger than most human homes. I had imagined the place to be bigger, more impressive.

Cat was still a few steps ahead of us, and she screamed on pain as something invisible stabbed her on the back. The shape of a poorly groomed dark haired human in heavy clothes formed behind her. He had a bloodied sword in his hand. At the same time, the icy skeletons got out from inside a small shack near the main building, closing our retreat. They were fully healed of the damage we had caused them before. We knew we couldn't handle them.

-Focus on him!- I cried.- He controls them.

I wasn't sure of my assumption, but it was our best take. I took a step towards the human who had attacked Cat.

-You are dead, necromancer, there is no way you can avoid my sister's blade.- I said with my best creepy voice, and reinforced my speech with a clear throaty laugh.

Cat studied the human for a second and let the hunter instincts take over her. She threw a quick slash, right towards his throat. He managed to make a clumsy dodge on the last moment, getting only a thin cut across his cheek. Indi wanted to go to help my sister on the fight, but one of the skeletons was already over him and freezing him to the bone. He had to put all his efforts on getting away from it.

-Don't worry, I have a plan!- said Talda'syn. He already had an skeleton after him, and he casted a healing spell on the other to catch its attention.- I'm going to take them out of here. Go for him!

Nazhena would teach me, some months later, the lesson that Talda'syn never learned: facing a stronger enemy all by yourself is never a good idea. I stopped seeing him as he disappeared behind the building, with the skeletons going after him, so I don't know what happened exactly.
-Bring him to me!- commanded the necromancer. And before my sister could strike him again, he invoked a spell to paralyze her. He was holding some sort of holy symbol, but I couldn't see what god it represented.

Having got rid of the skeletons, Indi joined the fight, hitting the unholy priest hard in the head with his quarterstaff. It was less than elegant but effective.

-You are doomed.- I kept laughing, debilitating the necromancer's trust on his own abilities. At the same time, I casted a basic spell to daze him, giving my sister some time to fight against the paralysis. She recovered quickly and, flanking with Indi, she went for the enemy's throat again. The necromancer was having a difficult time staying away from my sister's deadly hits. But he was still a tough opponent. Even against two people, and me debilitating his defenses, he stood up and managed to knock Indi down. The exposure to the freezing aura of the skeletons had taken a big toll on him. Cat was wounded too, but she wasn't the kind of person to allow pain to make her lose her focus. With a quick movement of her wrist, she slashed the necromancer behind the knee. He fell to the ground, and soon passed out from a mixture of pain and loss of blood.

I ran towards Indi to take his healing wand and use it on him when Cat saw the skeletons coming back.

-Kileanna, look!- she cried.

One of them was carrying Talda'syn on his shoulders. He was unconscious, and his lips had already turned blue with the cold. If we didn't help him quickly, he would soon be dead. Cat ran towards him, decided to confront the skeletons once more, but that wouldn't work. She was too wounded to survive getting into melee with them. The only way was making the undead creatures stop following orders, so they dropped Talda'syn. The necromancer had to die.

I pulled out my dagger and aimed for the chest. It came out so naturally. I had never killed anything, not even a small animal, so I found surprising the lack of resistance that his body offered. It was even a bit disappointing. Something inside me secretly wished that he was still conscious so he could experience his own death. This awkward sensation has come back anytime I see anyone dying while sleeping (which happens quite often) and it has always freaked me out.


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CHAPTER 10 (cont)

-What have you done?- Cat's cry got me back to the real world. The skeletons had dropped Talda'syn and ran towards her.
-I am trying to save him! Now run!

And we ran. We circled around the house, trying to make the skeletons lose track of us, but we only managed to get some time. They were still after us.
-Inside the house!- I said.
-Then they will kill the others!- complained Cat. She was right.
-We let them come after us. Then we lock them inside.

Dangerous? Yes. A good plan? Not that much. I have never been such a quick thinker. The main flaw of the plan was a predictable one: we were getting into a house. Houses tend to be inhabited by people. And escaping from the skeletons we had just ran into that people.
We tried to get into a room, but we couldn't pass through them. At least I still had Indi's wand and I could heal my sister. She fought the bandits as best as she could, while we could hear the skeletons approaching. We were overwhelmed, but Cat fought as the animal in her name when cornered. When the skeletons got to us, my sister and I were the only ones standing. That didn't last, though, as the freezing aura of the undead monsters did what the bandits couldn't and she fell to the ground.

I was paralyzed for a second. I didn't know what to do. If I tried to heal Cat, they would kill me. I wasn't a good fighter and my magic was useless. But if I didn't get them out of the room they would kill my sister. There were no more options: I was on my own.

I wanted to lock them inside a room, but I wasn't able to do it without getting dangerously close to them. So finally I just got outside the lodge again and ran like there was no tomorrow. They were still following me, and that was good: while they were behind me, they weren't killing my friends. But what would happen when I got tired from running? Maybe my life wasn't that important, but if I died, nobody would come to help Cat, Indi or Talda'syn. They would die.
That was all I could think about when I started feeling the cramps on my legs. I ran down the road, and then I saw someone running towards me. It was a tall blond man carrying a longspear and advancing with resolution.

-Don't fear, young lady!- he said on a deep, self-confident tone- I am here to help!

It took me a couple of seconds to recognize the confused and almost child-like blond man who had more memories than being the son of a woman called Nazhena. He looked completely different now. His formerly empty eyes shone with resolution. He charged towards the skeletons and engaged them, doing his best to keep them at bay with his spear.

-Hold on!- I cried- I am bringing some help!

He looked strong, but no way he would be able to defeat the skeletons alone. So I changed the direction of my run, and I headed back towards the lodge, hoping I was fast enough to avoid the skeletons in my way. I had never ran so much in all my life. I didn't want to leave Blond behind, but it was the best I could do. I was relieved to find Indi still alive, and no enemies around. I used the wand on him and he recovered consciousness. I headed towards Talda'syn while Indi used his own healing powers to fully recover himself.

-The skeletons are down the road. Blond is keeping them at bay. He needs help.
-Who is...? Oh, yeah, Blond.
-Talda'syn is dead.- I informed. I felt betrayed. I had killed for him and he had died anyway.
-We cannot worry about that now.- I was surprised again by Indi's pragmatism.- I am going to help that man.
-I am going to heal Cat.- I waved Indi's healing wand.- I have borrowed this from you.

Indi seemed surprised but it was no time for discussions. He left down the road and I entered the lodge. Cat was lying there, beaten and in an odd position but still alive. She woke up ready to fight, despite there were no more enemies around. I made a gesture for her to follow me, and she did with no questions.

When we got to the fight, Indi and Blond already had desteoyed one of the skeletons, and were effectively keeping the other from approaching. Cat knew that it was a terrible idea to approach them too much, so she pulled out her bow. It was next to impossible to aim properly with all the wind and snow, but anything was better than nothing. I managed to hit the skeleton's skull with my slingshot, and I swear that I even made a small crack on it. The last skeleton fell (not thanks to my tiny contribution), there were no more enemies around, and we could finally take a break to heal properly.

-Is everyone OK?- asked Blond.
-Yes.-answered Cat, and before she could say anything else, the light in Blond's eyes faded out again. He gave us that blank, confused stare that he had when we first met him.
-Whoever was there, it is gone.- I said, trying to find a glimpse of life in his eyes. I was so curious about him.
-We cannot trust him. He might be possessed or something.- stated Indi.- I don't know where you got that, but you have to give it to us.

Blond looked at the weapon he was carrying like it was the first time he saw it, seemed confused for a second and then he handled the spear to Indi.

-He has helped us. If we allow him to keep it he might help us again later.
-He might kill us in our sleep too. He doesn't act normal.

Normal. How I hate that word! We would live in a better world if people didn't asume certain things to be "normal". But Indi might be right this time. We couldn't trust a man who claimed to be the son of the woman who was, apparently, behind the unnatural weather and the fey.

-I guess that if we need him to fight we can give him a weapon later.- I shrugged.- This is yours, by the way.- I added, handing him his wand back.- I'm afraid I spent a lot of the magic it holds.
-I forgive you for keeping us alive.- smiled Indi. I smiled back. He was so kind.- I didn't expect you to be able to use it. Seeing the way you use your magic I guessed you were some kind of wizard or sorceress.
-She's a shaman!- interjected Cat.
-I don't know what I am,- I shrugged again-but your wand worked fine with me.

He gave me an inquisitive stare, but he didn't go further with his questions.


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And here is where we lost Talda'syn's player. He wanted so badly to be the hero that he "taunted" the skeletons (it was a good idea, btw) and then he run towards the inexplored. In fact, he run towards Izoze. I let him autopass a Perception check and I also assumed that Izoze botched hers (I didn't want a TPK so early). However, his only plan was "to run very fast". I told him that the skeletons had his same speed, but he didn't try anything different. He just kept running.

It was something like this: Talda'syn uses his two move actions running. The skeletons too; they cannot attack him (difficult terrain, so no charging). Talda'syn suffers damage from the ice aura (they were frost skeletons). Then Talda'syn runs again in straight line. Rinse and repeat. The freezing aura finally knocked him.

When the rest of the party killed Rokhar, the skeletons were freed from Rokhar's orders and attacked them, but it was too late. Talda'syn was dead. I didn't want the player to sit out the rest of the session, so I let him use Blond (I told him to play Blond as a typical knight; in a few chapters you'll understand). He wasn't happy, but at least he could keep playing.

An then all went south. At first, he demanded a free resurrection. A free True Resurrection, because he was level 1 and he didn't want the -2 to Con. Then he demanded that I let him play with his twin brother "who was just wandering the zone, looking for him". Of course, I said no. And then he started ranting about how the rest of the party had killed him with their incompetence. Seriously, bro...

I managed to calm him down and told him that he could make a character that was not identical and that he could join the party the next session, when they went back to town. In the meantime (because I was not going to stop the game just so he could make a new character) I offered him to play with Blond or Lady Argentea (in my story she was a capable sword and board fighter), the two only NPC with a full sheet that I had at the moment. His answer was... ehm... something like this:

Talda'syn: "I don't want to play a retarded fighter. Or a woman; I want to kill my enemies, not cuddle them to death".

At first we all laughed. Then we realized he was serious. We managed to avoid a heavy discussion, but we were very pissed off. He tried to make amends, but he only made it worse; I won't repeat his exact words, but we all realized that he was a misogynist and that he had been picking on Kileanna not because her character was marked with bad omens; it was because the player was a woman. Once the session ended he went away and never returned. We didn't miss him.


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Ah, the lovely Talda'syn!
When writing the story I tried to bring the character to the original concept Dalindra developed for him rather than the terrible role-playing that the player did with him, while keeping his actions. I thought it would make a much better story like that xD

But the player was soo charming... I mean, you forgot to tell how he asked so many times to Cat's player, in a despective way something like "dude, why are you playing a chick?".

After his ragequit without a tableflip we were all like: "Thanks for coming, here's the door"

Anyway, his actions allowed us to realize the story was serious and lethal. We had almost a TPK in the Lodge and we would have to be very cautious. In the end it was all for good.

As we knew later, this guy had a reputation of joining and destroying a lot of role-playing groups. But we survived him bwahahahaha (witch cackle).


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CHAPTER 11
When we got back to the Lodge, everything was silent but the wind. The bodies of Talda'syn and the necromancer were the first ones to be seen, but there were many more inside the building. The skeletons had killed most of the unconscious bandits with their auras. Cat searched the necromancer's body for some valuables, while Indi and I double-checked that Talda'syn was really dead.

-Hey, Indi, what god is this?- said my sister, holding a pendant with the symbol of a goat skull.
-Chemosh, uh... The Ravenous Crow for your people.
-Yucks!

Cat tossed the symbol aside, like it was infective.

-Why always him? The guy has also a book. Was he a priest or a wizard?
-Does it matter? He is dead.- I answered.
-Can you understand anything?

Cat handed the book to me. It was full of arcane babble and geometrical nonsense. I shrugged.

-I'll check later. Maybe Nina can make some use of it.- Nina opened an eye when she heard her name. She had a hard time staying awake during the day.- Now we should look for the lady. She should be somewhere near here.
-Right. Wait a second.- she took the necromancer's cloak and wore it. It was a beautiful cloak made in white fur. My magical senses told me it was magic too.- This cloak is so warm!

We got inside the building again. There were corpses everywhere, but I tried hard not to think of it. After some.searching, we found a trap door under a rug. It was locked.

-Allow me.

I thought she was going to use a lockpick, but instead she produced some keys. Before any of us could ask she said:

-I found them on the skeleton guy.- she looked the keys for a couple of seconds and chose the one that fit into the lock.

-Who goes there?- cried a voice on the other side of the trap door.- Don't get close, I warn you!
-Lady Agentea Malassene?- asked Indi.- Don't be afraid, we aren't bandits. We have come to rescue you.

Cat opened the trap door.

-You aren't my men either.- said the voice.- Where are they?

The woman in the cellar got upstairs the best she could. Indi gave his hand to her, but she ignored him and climbed on her own. She was about to trip on her own dress.

-Stupid dress.- she mumbled- I'm never traveling again without wearing my armor.

The bandits hadn't been gentle with her. Her emerald silk dress (improper for the cold weather) was torn, and she had cuts and wounds all over her body. Her auburn hair was tangled and dirty. Yet anything of it hid her noble bearing. She looked more furious and humiliated than scared.

-I am sorry. -I said. There was no reason for hiding the truth from her. She deserved to know.- Everyone but Yuln has been killed. He made it to Linsel and sent us here.

I saw pain in her eyes, just for a second, but she recovered quickly.

-And Rokhar? The leader of the band. Where is he?
-Dead, too. We... took care of him.
-What a pity. Good work, I guess. So, you are some sort of... adventurers?

We were wounded, dirty, tired and I had bathed on my own blood. Plus, Cat and I were dressed like beggars and Indi still wore his summer clothes (only magic kept him from freezing). Surely, we didn't look like the most trustworthy rescue team.

-Travelers.- I corrected.- We were heading South when we got into this unnatural cold and the attack on your caravan.
-So you must be expecting some reward.- she said, as if it was only natural.

For some reason I felt like I had been slapped in the face. The assumption that we could be doing it just for monetary reasons made me angry.

-We have recovered most of your belongings. They are yours. We aren't expecting any kind of compensation.

The noblewoman looked confused while I started pulling out jewelry, clothes and spare coinage.

-You should have your things back.- I said. For the first time of her life Cat looked at me in disapproval. I could read her mind: "Kileanna, this woman is rich. We need this more than she does!" She said nothing, though.- We also got this sword that we got from one of your men. You might want to keep it.
-I'll take the sword. And I wouldn't mind having my clothes back. I am freezing here. My shield and armor must also be somewhere around here. You can keep everything else. You can have this too.- she handed me a silver chain with emeralds mounted on it. Somehow she had managed to keep the bandits from taking it.- You can sell it if you want.

Another slap on my face.

-I can't! This is... too much! It must have some sentimental value.
She had taken risks by keeping it on herself, and now she was giving it to us. It wasn't fine.
-It doesn't matter. Keep it. Sell it. Whatever you want.

I realized that she was only trying to show us her gratitude and that she'd be offended if we didn't take it. The necklace was too feminine for Indi (at least that's what he said), and the interest my sister had on jewelry was purely economic, so I kept it. I had always been fascinated by fancy things and that necklace was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

-I... took this from one of your handmaidens belongings.- I said, suddenly remembering about the dress.- I found it really pretty. But you might want to keep it.
-Why? She's no longer going to wear it.- she used a neutral tone, but she seemed hurt.- And I am not wearing a handmaiden's dress either. You can keep it if you like it. Now we should move, this place is still dangerous.

After we found all her gear, she got back to the cellar to change clothes and don her armor. If she already was an imposing figure on her tattered dress, the impression she gave on her armor was much more impressive. I hadn't thought too much about her Solamnic heritage until I saw the sigils on her armor but then I realized that she must be a knight.

-We'll escort you back to Linsel.- said Indi.- You must be looking forward to continue your trip.
-There's no time for that. I heard Rokhar speaking about something causing this unusual winter deeper into the woods. We must stop it. Let's go.

Cat and Indi were a bit upset. This woman who had just joined us was trying to command us! I was only amused. As far as I knew that was what noble humans were supposed to do. Their society seemed to be heavily rooted on some of them commanding and everybody else following. It seemed fascinating to me.


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...And here we have Lady Argentea.

With Talda'syn out and Indi warning me that he would have to miss some sessions for real life issues, I decided to let my players to recruit some NPCs to complete the party; Lady Argentea had the honor of being the first one. My rules with these cohorts were these: they can help in combat and, if one player wants to, he can control one of them. Out of combat, I'll roleplay them.

I gave Lady Argentea a sword and board build so she could help the party but not steal the spotlight from them. However, I was convinced that she was going to be very short-lived as my players would surely hate her. I portrayed Lady Argentea as a bossy, stubborn woman with some snobbish moments. And my party loved her. All of them! WTF?

And there came a moment where I thought she was getting too relevant for a NPC, so I kicked her from the group in order to do a personal quest. My players went all "When does she come back?", "I miss Argentea" and so on. At the end she had to come back. Even though they recruited a fair amount of cohorts, whenever we lacked a 4th player (too often) it was always Lady Argentea who was selected.

I guess I should be proud, but I am still WTF?


It was half because we liked her and half because she kept us alive!!!

I remember when she went on her personal quest, which was necessary to get a new player (who was an old friend and had been waiting for a good moment to join the game for sessions) into the party.

So we all were like: "OK, go, but come back soon"

Also, Argentea's "personal quest" ended being the source of most plot twists on all the stories as well as bringing a sort of political sub-plot that we all loved.

And we might have another reason to love her... Remember at S&S when nobody wanted the crown and you wanted to make Sandara the Hurricane Queen? We had a similar argument out of game later with Baba Yaga's mark (spoilers!). Assume it, we seemed to fear leadership and responsibility roles! We tended to get stuck taking decissions and Argentea was the kind of person who commanded us to take a course of action NOW, without taking the decissions herself. It was a good NPC to get us out of choice paralysis.


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CHAPTER 12

Before we could leave the lodge, we had to do something about Talda'syn's remains. We didn't have the time to find a good place in the river to give him a proper burial, so we decided to take him to a corner where he would be quickly covered by snow, hoping that it was enough to keep the body from being devoured by wild animals. But as we got out of the building, Cat and Indi spotted something at the same time.

-What's that?- asked my sister, pointing at a winged creature, quickly flying away from our position. It was about the size of Nina, vaguely humanoid and with sapphire blue skin. It wasn't a faerie, but something entirely different: an ice mephit, a creature from the elemental plane of cold.

-Don't let it escape!- commanded Argentea.

I had been reserving my magic for a moment where it could make a difference. The moment was now. I chanted the words of power that I had learned through Nina, and the creature fell asleep. Even though it woke up as it hit the ground, my sister, Argentea and Indi were already waiting for it so it never got on its wings again. After being hit really hard, the mephit attempted to retreat.

-You are going nowhere!- cried Argentea, knocking the creature down with a furious blow of her sword.- Good job.- She added, to no one in particular.- She could have informed someone.

She? I realized that the creature, beyond its twisted form, had indeed some female features.

-We should interrogate her.- suggested Indi.
-We should first tie her up.- noted Cat.- If you haven't noticed, her wounds are healing!
Argentea hit the mephit on the head with the pummel of her blade.
-Do it, quick!

Cat produced some rope and wrapped the creature up like a sausage.Then we waited until she regained consciousness. The mephit called herself Izoze, and wasn't clever enough to lie to us or keep her mouth shut. We learned a lot from her. There was some kind of magic portal in the woods, which was causing the unnatural cold and led to somewhere beyond the Icewall called Irrisen. As far as we knew, there was nothing beyond the Icewall. The portal was protected by someone called Teb Knotten, an ice troll, who worked for the winter witch called Nazhena. Nazhena. That name again. According to what we learned, she seemed to be a sort of ruler from Irrisen. Again, according to Izoze's words, the bandits weren't important. Nazhena just had been using their leader, Rokhar, as a small part of her plan. Which plan? - we asked. "Bringing back the Endless Winter" she proudly declared.

As for Blond, his mere presence disturbed Izoze. She feared him because he was Nazhena's son, but she also claimed that he wasn't human at all, but something entirely different created by Nazhena's magic. Blond didn't show any kind of reaction to Izoze's claims. I am not sure that he was even listening. He looked as absent-minded as ever.

Having learned everything that we could from Izoze, we had to decide what to do with her. Indi tried to convince us all that the only sensible choice was killing her, but nobody was seduced by that option. I might have killed a helpless man minutes ago (and enjoyed it way too much to be willing to repeat it), but I was trying to save a life. This would only be a cold-hearted murder. So we finally threw her into one of our bags. We would decide what to do with her later. I am afraid to admit that we completely forgot about her until more than a week later, when we found her dead inside the bag. Did she suffocate? Did she starve? The small purple marks I found around her neck suggested a not-so-accidental death, but I said nothing about it. There was no reason to raise unnecessary suspicions among the group.

With no more unexpected interruptions, we were finally free to secure Talda'syn's body and leave the Lodge. We had to cross a rope bridge to continue our trip to the heart of the woods but, despite the discouraging force of the winds, the bridge was pretty safe.

We were starting to feel tired, but we didn't want to rest near the Lodge, as we didn't know how many bandits could be still alive and get back to attack us.

The trail was safe and uneventful for some time, which allowed us to question Argentea about herself and what had happened. She told us she was attacked while traveling to Castle Eastwatch to meet a possible suitor. He was a known hero, commander of the fortress and sibling of Argentea's cousin's wife.

-He seems like a good man.- she said emotionlessly.
-So you don't even know him?- I asked.
-Not yet.
-But you might marry him.
-Maybe.
-And what if you don't love him?
-This isn't about love, this is about responsibility, and honoring my family.
-I don't get why they would want you to marry someone you don't love.
-Don't try to understand it, Kileanna, humans are strange.- intervened Cat.
-Not all humans.- protested Indi.- Nobility. My mother would never ask me to do that. And for what I know, Silvanesti noble elves aren't that different from noble humans.
-Prffff, Silvanesti. I have met some of them before. Who understands them either?

I had never met a Silvanesti elf, and I didn't know when my sister could have met one, but when I was about to ask Nina's hooting caught my attention. She was perched on a near tree, only a few steps ahead. The snow below was stained red, and many footprints filled the area. Argentea stepped forward, taking a defensive position with her shield.

-Watch out!

We advanced cautiously, with Argentea on the lead and myself in the middle. I was the weakest slab and nobody wanted me to be ambushed by hidden attackers again. But there was no ambush this time. Whatever had happened, it had happened some time ago. We found a dead man, his body lying on the snow, with his throat slit by sharp fangs. His bow laid next to him, broken, but he still had some useful things on himself.

-Look, Argentea, his boots are your size.- noticed Cat immediately.

Despite Argentea's clothes being now more appropriate than a silken dress, they weren't good for cold weather either. And, unlike Indi, she didn't have magic to keep the cold away. She kneeled down by the corpse.

-Great. I am stealing the boots of a dead man.- she complained.
-It's not stealing, it's surviving!- complained Cat.- You aren't helping anyone by freezing yourself to death!

I remembered her saying the same words to me, decades ago, when I asked her for the first time if she was a thief.

-I guess he no longer needs them.- she sighed.
While Argentea was making funny faces while getting herself into the boots of a dead man, I gave a quick read to the poorly written journal that Cat had found in his bag.
-It seems like he was hunting a... uh... giant weasel. Or being hunted by one.
-You have giant weasels here?- asked Indi.
-It was probably a wolf. Who has heard of giant weasels?- said my sister in disbelief.
-Weasel or wolf, we'd better be aware.- I warned- I don't want more random creatures popping out of nowhere right to my throat.
-Let's keep moving.- commanded Argentea.- We must find a safe place to set a camp before it gets dark.


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CHAPTER 13

We continued our march, trying to find a good place to rest. Nowhere in the woods seemed to be safe enough. Even the most quiet and calm place that we found ended up being inhabited by two walking pine trees, who didn't seem to like us a lot. Once again, we had to fight our way out and, though they weren't a big threat (just a bit sticky), and the fighting only contributed to our tiredness. We weren't happy either to discover that the weasel hunter had filled parts of the trail with bear traps that we had to disarm. So, when the next thing we saw was a tiny hut in the middle of a wide clearing, we weren't so gullible to believe that it would be the perfect place to spend the night. We were so tired, though, that we saw it as a blessing anyway. If you have ever wondered why people in fairytales get into the creepy isolated house in the woods, the answer is that the house always seems like a better option. Of course, it never is.

The cottage was surrounded by a strange maze of giant ice boulders. It was the perfect place for an ambush or a trap, so we advanced cautiously. Then I heard the muffled sounds of a child crying and I spotted a young human girl crying. I approached her, and she didn't notice me until I was close to her. She gave me a panicked look.
-I'm sorry! Don't hurt me! I never meant to call you names!
It seemed obvious to me that she had mistaken me for someone else. I wasn't as foolish not to find her suspicious, but she looked truly terrified. Maybe it wasn't the wisest move, but when she ran away from me, I went after her as fast as I could.

-Wait! I don't want to hurt you! Who are you?
-My name is Thora Petska.- I heard from the distance.- Please, stay away!

She disappeared, and I continued moving forward, calling her name. Behind me, my sister and the others called mine, telling me to stop being foolish and wait for them.

Finally I found Thora again hiding behind one of the boulders. She looked at me with teary eyes.

-Please, don't keep me here. It's so cold. I miss my mother.
-Don't be afraid of me- I couldn't avoid thinking of elven children running away from me and hiding behind their parent's legs. I didn't want people to fear me.- I want to help you. Do you know where your mother is?

She didn't answer, she just stared at me with her big blue eyes, with a mix of confusion, fear and hope in them. She allowed me to get much closer this time, but as I offered my hand to her, she fled again. I realized she wasn't leaving any footprints in the snow. If she was some kind of ghost we might be late to save her, but what if she was some kind of psychic projection? She might be still trapped somewhere. I kept chasing her until I reached her again. I offered her my empty hand, but she looked at me like I was holding something.

-I don't want your stupid doll!- she cried to me, still in tears.- I want to go home! Take me back!
-Please, don't run away, Thora.- I pleaded.- We want to help you. Who did this to you?

This time she didn't even allow me to approach. She ran away from me as soon as I took the first step towards her. We were close the end of the ice boulder field and approaching the house. I thought she might be leading me to the house. Was she still being held there? Was it a trap? I found Thora standing in front of me, with a confused look in her eyes.

-Who are you?- finally, she didn't mkstake me for whoever had hurt her.
-My name is Kileanna. I will help you. I promise.

She was still terrified, but not of me.

-I can't stay. I have to get away. And you should too, before they see you.

This time she didn't run away from me. I got so close that I could have touched her. She wasn't translucent as I had thought ghosts would be, but the falling snow went through her body like she wasn't there.

-Run!- she exhorted me. And then she disappeared in front of me, leaving behind a burst of emotions. I can only describe what I felt as days, maybe weeks, of fear, desperation, cold, hunger and pain, concentrated on a single moment. It was overwhelming. When the rest of the group got to me I was shivering in fear.
-Don't ever do that again!- my sister yelled at me, more worried than angry.- It was foolish!
-And stupid!- joined Argentea.- You could have gotten yourself killed.

It was like having two older sisters instead of one.

-I think she's being held in the cottage. But she might not be alive.
-Then what?- asked Indi- Is she some kind of ghost?
-Probably.- I shrugged.- She showed me what they did to her. It was terrible.
-So we are getting into a haunted place? Maybe we should just pass and find a better place to rest.- suggested Indi. Argentea looked at him, pondering his words.
-We can just go and take a look.- said Cat.- What's to lose? If there is really a small girl inside there we should help her.
-If she's already dead, there is not much we can do.- argued Argentea.
-We can still free her spirit.- I guessed.

Disregarding Indi's waryness, we entered the cottage. My sister and I wanted to do it, and Argentea remained neutral, having arguments in both directions. Blonde remained as silent as ever. It was easy to forget that he was still with us. If we didn't address him, he'd just follow us, quiet as a ghost.

The place was smaller than it seemed. There was no fireplace and the windows were broken, allowing the cold, wind and snow to get inside. Still, sleeping inside seemed a much better option than camping outdoors. Or it would seem if it wasn't for the doll. She was sitting on a rocking chair (the only furniture in the room), facing the door, like she would be expecting us. She had been crafted in wood with awesome skill and care, from the beautiful silken dress to the extremely realistic golden braids. But while her face should have been one of a pretty girl, it was carved to look wrinkled and old. Still, she had a disturbing resemblance with Thora. The most unsettling feature, though, was her eyes. The left one was crafted out of a blue gemstone, and it stared blankly at us. The right one was a mirror of the size of a coin , showing us our own shocked faces.

-What a creepy doll.- said Cat, approaching her.- Who would make a doll look old and ugly like this?- she extended her hand towards her.
-Do not touch it!- cried Argentea and I in unison.
-OK, OK... Calm down.

Indi and I examined the doll and determine that it held some kind of magic, but we couldn't extract much more information aside from that.

-The soul of the little girl we met outside is trapped inside this doll.- I said, with my creepiest storytelling voice.- She can have no rest, bound to watch over this hut forever.
-How can you know that?- asked Indi, smiling in disbelief- You are making it up!
-She told me.- I answered in a mysterious voice. I was still worried for Thora, but a classic terror story is always good for cheering people up, and as tired and beaten as we were, it was needed.
-You are creepy.- said Argentea, looking amused rather than scared.
-Kileanna loves to make up stories.- explained Cat.
-I am not making it up.- I absolutely was. But I also thought it was the explanation that made the most sense.
-Stop it! We have to sleep here, remember?

I stopped and we started working towards making the hut a bit more comfortable. It proved to be a lost cause. Any attempts of covering the windows with blankets only resulted in less blankets to cover ourselves and a constant flapping sound. We couldn't light a fire indoors. The howling of the wind drove us insane. In addition, each time we got distracted we started hearing wailing sounds and we found out that many of our things had moved from the site where we had placed them.

-Enough! I am sleeping outdoors!- My sister's patience was finally worn off.
She looked more pissed off than scared. But we had to aggree with her in the fact that we'd be more comfortable in any other place.


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You, creepy troll-elf! I am going to have nightmares!


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CHAPTER 14

After coming to an aggreement to find a better place to sleep, we packed up our things and prepared to leave. But we had yet to decide what to do with the creepy doll. It might be dangerous, but if it really was a receptacle for Thora's spirit, we couldn't leave her like that. Argentea wanted to destroy the doll: if it held a trapped soul, that should release it. Cat voted for leaving it where it was. Indi and I agreed on taking it with us, for different reasons: I wanted to help Thora, he just didn't want to lose the disturbing doll from sight.

I have to admit that I was a bit afraid of touching the doll but I still lifted her like I would have done with a real child.

-You are going to come with us. I have to put you in my backpack, but don't worry, I will leave your head out so you can see.- We hadn't been so kind to Izoze when we packed her up.
-You know you are talking to a doll, don't you?- asked Argentea, raising an eyebrow.

I had never had a doll as a child, so I didn't know what was the proper protocol to deal with one, but talking to her seemed appropriate.

-I don't want to offend her by ignoring her, just in case that she is really alive.
-What if she isn't?- questioned Indi.
-Then I am just acting crazy. Who cares?

No more questions were asked and although nobody felt comfortable with me talking to the doll from time to time, I didn't get any more complaints. Finally, we decided to set our camp in the boulder maze. We were too exhausted to keep walking for long, and it was already too dark for the humans to see anything. I knew that human's night vision was pretty lame, but I had never expected them to be completely blind in darkness.
Indi and Argentea would do the first and the last watch respectively, so Cat and I could do the watch on the darkest hours. Blonde didn't seem to be aware of his surroundings, nor we did fully trust him, so he'd be the only lucky one to sleep all night. Indi was surprised when Argentea volunteered to do one of the watches. According to him, that wasn't what a noble lady was supposed to do. Noble ladies go to bed early to stay youthful and pretty while others stay awake to watch over them I didn't know anything abour human nobility, bur according to what I had seen of Argentea, I couldn't picture her acting that way.

After many attempts, we were able to light a fire, though it needed to be constantly attended. Cat let Argentea use her blanket, as she rarely slept on it. To my embarrassment, I have to admit that I had never gotten used to sleep alone. Snuggling together was something my sister and I had to do to survive the harsh conditions, but it also reinforced the close bond we had. When I woke up in the middle of the night, shivering in fear, she would gently tap my head and hold me until I calmed down. Recently the nightmares had been getting much worse, and I was scared of the idea of spending the night alone.

I put the doll by my side and used my backpack as a pillow. We fell asleep soon, as we were exhausted. Against all odds, I was having a pleasant, dreamless sleep. Suddenly, I heard a single knocking sound. It sounded really close to me and it woke me up. The firsr thing Iis saw was Indi, holding his his staff against me. A muffled cry escaped from my mouth. Cat stood up as fast as lightning. How she was able to differentiate between when I was endangered from when I was having a bad dream, I cannot tell. Argentea woke up to and reached for her sword and shield.
-She was about to slit your throat while you were sleeping!- said Indi.

I was confused. Who was he talking about? Cat? That was ridiculous! Then I saw the doll by my side, carrying a tiny wooden dagger. It was hard to believe that she could harm anybody with it. But she stood up (again?) and charged towards me. I rolled on the floor to dodge the hit, but I wasn't fast enough and she stabbed me in a leg. The knife was colder than ice and hurt a lot. Cat engaged the doll in melee, while Argentea rushed to battle, charging the doll with her shield and almost overrunning me in the process. Everything went so fast that I didn't even have time to stand up before the doll was turned into splinters. The mirror on her right eye was broken, but the blue gemstone was still whole. It radiated a necromantic aura. If Thora's soul was actually trapped (and I wholeheartedly believed that it was), the gemstone had to be her prison.

-We have to destroy it. She deserves to be free.

Everybody aggreed on that. I didn't think of Thora as the twisted creature that had attempted to kill me in my sleep, but as the scared girl I had met befofe. After a couple of pitiful attempts of breaking the stone from my side, Argentea effortlessly smashed it.

-What a shame.- said Cat without much conviction- It looked valuable.- Although you might think she was greedy, she couldn't care less for money. She just knew that food and clothes don't always come for free, and she wanted us (especially me) to live a good life.

We didn't discuss the doll incident further, as we juat wanted to get back to sleep. It was almost the time for my watch, so I sent Indi to sleep. My watch was uneventful, and I spent most of the time watching the fire consuming the remains of the doil. When the time came, I awakened my sister and then crawled under Indi's blanket.
-I just want to get some sleep.- he mumbled, with his deep blue eyes barely open.
-So do I.- I answered, leaning my head against his chest. Then I just fell asleep. I had an unpleasant sleep, full of nightmares. Indi was in some of them, but the necromancer I had killed, Rokhar, was also there. He was one of the most disgusting men I had ever.met, and physical contact with him made me feel sick, even in dreams. It was easier when my nightmares where all about faceless strangers.

I woke up alone, My sister and Blond were still asleep, and Argentea was crouched over by the fire, heating some snow in a small cauldron we had brought long, so we could cook some breakfast. Indi was nowhere to be seen.

-I guess he became tired of you trying to rip into his chest.- said Argentea, answering the question I had in my mind.- He said he had to commune with his goddess to regain his spells. I told him not to go far.

I blushed violently, feeling embarrased. I vaguely remembered ripping a heart with my own claws in my dreams last night. I suddenly felt afraid of having hurt Indi for real.

-What goddess does he follow, by the way?- asked Argentea, unaware of my worries.
-Rann.- I answered dryly, not wanting to use the goddess' human name. Argentea didn't seem like the kind of person who would be fine with having someone worshipping evil gods on her side.- I have to commune with Nina too.- I still felt too embarrased and I didn't want to engage in chatter anymore.

Argentea looked at me like she still had questions, but she said nothing more. I called Nina down and we moved to one side of the camp. I didn't need to be alone to get my spells, I just needed enough space to be able to concentrate enough to hear the whispered knowledge that Eternity shared with me through Nina. When I was done, I felt much better. Meditation always helped me to forget about my bad dreams. Indi and Cat weren't around, and Argentea informed me that they had gone out to find some food. Blond was staring blankly at the boiling cauldron.

-I am not sure they will be able to find anything edible.- worried Argentea. Her stomach growled fiercely. We had barely had any dinner last night.
-There are a lot of trees.
-The weather must have spoiled all the fruit they could have.
-Oh, but many trees have edible bark. And the sap is often delicious too!
She looked at me in disbelief.
-Have you really eaten tree bark?
-Many times. It's actually pretty good, if you don't have anything else.- and definitely much better than starving, I thought.
-Nobody should have to eat things like that.- she protested, with such a passionate voice that I feared for a second that she was angry with me.- Weren't your people able to hunt anything?
-My sister is my people. I am not very welcome among my own kind.- I shrugged- My eyes, and my hair, a bad omen, they say.
I had to fight a sudden urge to run away and hide so nobody could look at me again. Speaking of my people always raised this sensation of awkwardness and not belonging.
-That doesn't make any sense!- Argentea's anger was growing, and it was hard to tell that it wasn't directed towards me.- So you and your sister don't have anywhere to go?
-They don't have any issues with Cat. It's all about me. She could be happy with them if I wasn't around.
-She is where she wants to be. If she really had wanted to leave you behind she would have done so a long time ago.

Not that I didn't make it easy for her. I had lost the account of how many times, as a child, I had tried to run away from her so she could have a normal life. But she always found me, cold, scared and regretting what I had done.

-If your people keep insisting on being idiots and you need a place, to live, you two can come with me, if you want.
That caught me off guard. She barely knew us. Why did she care? But she seemed sincere.
-I... Thank you. No one in all my life... But I can't. I am looking for an specific place. I still don't know where it is, but I feel like I belong there. As soon as I find it, I might leave.
-Does it have anything to do with your nightmares?
-I think so.
-Aren't you scared?
-No.- I lied.
-What if it isn't what you expect?

"Then, I don't really care what happens next" I thought.

-Then I might take you up on your offer.- I answered with a big smile.


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CHAPTER 15

When Indi and Cat got back from their (unsuccessful) hunt for food, they found us cooking one of Argentea's old shoes in the cauldron.

-Hey, -laughed Cat- we aren't so desperate yet that we are eating our own shoes! We still have some dry food!
-I know- I answered- this is just a bet. Argentea wouldn't believe that shoes can be edible when properly cooked so I dared her to test it by cooking one of her own.
-Lady Argentea.- she corrected.
-Oh, yes, sorry. Lady Argentea.

Indi and Cat looked at us in disbelief. To be honest, I cannot remember either how we got from talking about serious things to discussing emergency food. Neither I can understand how she accepted to cook and eat a shoe. My best guess is that she felt shocked about me and my sister having to survive on barely edible things and she wanted to have a bite (pun intended) to see how it felt like. But that's only my assumption. Knowing Argentea, maybe she just couldn't refuse a challenge.

-So what is exactly the bet?- asked Indi.
-If she's able to eat some, I will eat some too.
-What if she isn't?
I shrugged.
-Nothing.
-You aren't very good at betting, are you?

My whole experience with betting was seeing my sister playing cards in a tavern. As far as I knew, it consisted of everybody placing their bets, then playing their cards, then Cat getting in a fight because she couldn't pay what she owed. Some months later, my sister's betting system would save our lives and souls.

We ate our dry rations while the shoe boiled slowly. When we were ready for departing it was still mostly raw, but Argentea insisted on giving it a try. She made a funny face before making a big effort to tear a chunk of leather from the shoe.

-It has to cook some more. Then it should be edible, though a bit chewy.
She didn't answer, she just made more faces. I felt a bit guilty for convincing her to try.

-Let me give it a bite too.- I laughed.
-Why? You don't have to. I lost the bet.
-It seems fair.
-We have no more time for this. Let's move.- she threw the half boiled shoe away.
-I wouldn't have minded trying.- I said.
-Girl, you are really terrible at betting.- laughed Indi.

I never got any better at it.

We felt optimistic and motivated after having a night's rest, and we had almost forgotten the difficulties we had been through the previous day, but the woods were unforgiving and wouldn't allow us to forget where we were. As we were about to leave the clearing where we had spent the night, a big arcane explosion happened. Someone had set a well concealed magic trap at the exit of the clearing. As Cat and Argentea were the ones that led the way, only they were caught in the explosion. Without a shield to take cover behind, and caught completely off-guard, my sister took the worst part of the impact. After what we had been through the previous day, it didn't feel like too much, but it made us remember that we weren't on a leisure trip. We had to be aware.

We hadn't been walking for more than 10 minutes when Cat found footprints in the snow.

-An animal. A big one.- she pointed at some red sprinkles on the snow.- It is wounded, so we must be cautious. Wounded animals are twice as dangerous.
-It must be the animal that the man we found dead yesterday was hunting.- said Argentea, while giving a quick look at her new, warm, non-fancy boots.
-We should hunt it down.- suggested Indi.- If it attacks us by surprise or while we are injured from another fight it could be fatal.
-You are right.- agreed Argentea.
-We can also get some good meat and fur out of it.- added Cat.

The kagonesti elves revere life, and killing anything without a good reason is often unthinkable to them. Surviving is, of course, the best possible reason to kill. After killing their prey, anything that can be used is taken, be it for food, clothes or even tokens and fetishes, as the contrary is considered disrespectful for the prey. This is so important that, when some kagonesti were corrupted by the Ghoul Queen of the Silvanesti, some tales were heard of them wearing the skin and bones of the elves they hunted and devoured. Being raised as outcasts, my sister and I didn't have such strong beliefs, but we still thought that no life should be wasted.

We got off the trail and into the woods to track the beast. I couldn't see anything, but Cat insisted that she saw footprints and drops of blood. I had lived in the woods most of my life, but I wouldn't have lasted a single day without my sister. After no more than a couple of minutes, Cat stood still and pointed towards some bushes. The animal laid exhausted, licking the blood on its paw. Though it was partially covered by the bushes, it was clear that it was a weasel, maybe an ermine, of about the size of my sister and with fur as white as snow. It noticed us as we approached. It stood up and charged towards Argentea (who was definitely the shiniest and noisiest among us) with a shriek of pain. Argentea was prepared, and made the beast bite her shield. I gave the weasel an intense stare and started laughing. Cat was already used to it, Indi had already seen it before and guessed it was another of the peculiarities of my magic, but Argentea was puzzled.

-Focus! Don't lose your nerves now!
I wanted to say I was OK, but I was struck cackling.
-It's normal, believe me.- answered my sister for me, while slashing the beast under one of its forelimbs.

The weasel shrieked and tried to bite one more time, but once again it met Argentea's shield. Indi joined the fight with his quarterstaff, trying to hit the beast on its head. It wasn't a very good blow, but my magic was hindering the animal, making its movements clumsier, and it wasn't able to dodge properly. Despite being badly injured, the weasel kept fighting, out of desperation, until my sister delivered the final blow. As the beast fell to the ground, she slashed its throat, ending its life.

-If it doesn't bleed, it will be inedible.- she explained. Then she proceeded to skin the animal and cut it into pieces.
-Can I have its fangs?- I asked.- I want to try crafting something out of them.

I could see that she found my petition strange, but she asked no questions. I had always shown my disgust for any kind of amulets or jewelry crafted by kagonesti elves and refused to wear them. But the difference was the meaning: I didn't want to wear something to constantly remind me of the people who had ostracized me. But if I was going to leave soon, I wanted something to remind me of this adventure and the new friends I had made. They were the only friends I had ever had aside from my sister and Nina. I worked on it for a couple of nights, cleaning the fangs with my knife and mounting them on a leather string. The final result was rough, but I felt satisfied with it. I have been wearing that necklace since then, and many times I have wondered if I should give it to Argentea in exchange for hers, but it isn't definitely the kind of jewelry that a noble lady should wear.
While Cat butchered the weasel, Argentea took a moment to speak to her. They were only a ifew steps aside of the group, so I could hear almost everything. Argentea was concerned about my sudden burst of laughter during the combat and wanted to ask Cat if she felt like I was prepared to face real combat. She didn't want me to end up being killed or getting us all killed.

-It's alright. Not everybody is made to be a warrior.- she said- I have seen experienced knights losing their minds in battle.

Cat explained that the laughter thing was some kind of magic that she didn't understand. I was OK. Everything would have been fine if my sister stopped there, but she had to add that she wasn't sure either that I was prepared yet. I didn't attempt to argue, or to tell them I'd demonstrate that I was prepared. I knew I wasn't. But I'd try my best.


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Kileanna wrote:
-Focus! Don't lose your nerves now!

I've never got used to it. You see, you are fighting for your life and the witch... just... ROFLs... I know, I know: it's just magic. JUST MAGIC.

Spellcasters are weird.


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You never got used to it, but then I started vomiting spiders, then turning myself into an old woman, and there was also the hair thing. I bet that, after that, the cackling seemed almost... normal.


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A very good read. All that cold makes my scales shiver. I love the slow character development. The nice thing about these APs are you have all the time you need to really flesh out a character, like a book series, as opposed to a single novel.

It is actually just getting cold here. Well... my version of cold, which is most people's version of freezing.

Y'all see like a cool group to play with. I look forward to more!


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Oooh! Who do we have here! My favorite talking lizard! Thanks for dropping by! I hope you enjoy! I tried to be more narrative in this one. Being a player instead of a GM allows to focus in some new things. I wasn't also very satisfied with using terms as AC and BAB in the story so I tried to go into something more immersive.

Sit here by the campfire and warm up yourself!


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CHAPTER 16

As we continued the march, we felt how the temperature quickly dropped and the heavy snowfall turned into a blizzard. We had to walk against the direction of the wind, which made each step exhausting. Only Indi seemed to be comfortable with the terrible weather, with his exposed forearms and light summer clothes. His goddess protected him.

-We must be close to the source.- he said.
-Better approach cautiously.- added Argentea.- It will be protected.

The visibility was so poor that we didn't even bother to send Cat or Nina ahead this time. Argentea and my sister led the way, while Nina stayed perched on my arm, turned into a fluffy ball of feathers.

We weren't caught unaware when the air elemental attacked. We were already expecting an ambush. What really surprised us was that an air elemental wasn't exactly the toughest of enemies. Yes, it could fly, but it had to get close to attack, giving us the chance to strike it. There had to be someone else near. The snowball that hit me (or was it a stone?) confirmed our suspicions. It was unnaturally cold. I looked around, but I couldn't see where it came from. Only when the air elemental was banished, a tiny figure with blue skin and shimmering dragonfly wings flew in front of us. He didn't seem hindered by the wind and snow. He remained close enough time to be noticed and then disappeared again on the storm before we could react.

-Don't' let him escape!- commanded Argentea.
-But he's leading us to a trap!- I complained.
-So what?- Argentea got back on track, leading the way.- We cannot allow him to raise the alarm!
-You are right!- agreed Cat, joining Argentea on the lead.
I followed. Indi was about to join us when he realized that Blond didn't move. Indi took his arm and pulled. Only then, he reluctantly moved.
-Come on, lazy boy! We are taking you to mom!

To our surprise, Blond became suddenly motivated. Was it by fear, excitement, loyalty, or something entirely different, we couldn't tell. His face remained as inscrutable as ever while he strided on the snow as fast as he could. So did we, but not fast enough to keep the faerie to reach a small campsite not far from the ambush place. There were four igloos built among the trees. The faerie who had attacked us was waiting near one of them, and as he saw us, he threw something in our direction. There was a sound like thunder, so loud that I felt like my ears were bleeding. Then I heard nothing but a constant ringing.
The faerie got inside the igloo, and Indi followed.

-It's a trap!- I warned, but I couldn't hear my own cry. Indi turned towards me and said something with a big, confident smile on his face. He knew. Instead of entering, he conjured a cone of flames out of his fingertips and into the igloo. I couldn't see what happened from my position, but the smell of burned flesh together with Indi's triumphant smile was enough to me to figure out. Later we'd found out that he had charred to dearh three faeries that were hiding inside, and that the floor of the igloo was made of thin ice so it collapsed as anyone got inside.

The faerie wirh the dragonfly wings got out, emerging from a hole on the top of the igloo. He had survived the attack, though visibly burned. He was trying to get out again and only I was in position to avoid it. It was all or nothing. I felt clumsy pronouncing the words to make my magic work, as I couldn't hear myself, but the spell came out as it should. As it had happened before, the faerie fell asleep and was knocked into the floor, where Cat and Argentea were ready to take care of him. Our greatest concern was finishing all threats as soon as we could. If the explosion of the thunderstone hadn't alerted everyone in the proximity, my loud voice had surely done it.

We checked the other igloos, but they were all empty, so we headed towards a nearby trail, just in time to see a massive shape heading towards us. It was an ugly hunched figure with curved fangs, ape-like arms ended in claws and with a greenish blue skin covered in moss. Cat and I had once been into a tavern called The Troll's Head. The owner told everyone who asked about the disgusting stuffed head held on the wall as a trophy how the troll had been killed many times, but kept coming back to life again and again until they burned it to death. The creature we had in front of us looked pretty similar to the trophy (with the exception that this one had a body).

-Troll!- I cried- Indi, burn him!

The troll stopped for a second, letting us approach. He seemed surprised to see Blond. He pointed at him and then at us with his spear and said something. Blond seemed confused, and stood there, looking hipnotized at his own empty hands.
Argentea charged first, making a clear gesture for us all to stay behind her. The troll used his superior reach to strike at her with his spear. The shield protected her from being hit on any vital points, but she still got a pretty serious wound on her leg. &nbsp;Yet, that didn't keep her from ending her charge with an accurate blow with her sword. The wound started healing as soon as it was inflicted. Another quick gesture from Argentea, and Cat joined the fight while the troll was still reading his weapon for the next attack, while Indi also pivoted to cast a gust of flames right on the troll's face without burning any of us in the process. Meanwhile, I did what I knew how to do better: I gave the troll the evil eye and started cackling. It might be somewhat disturbing, but it worked and the troll's moves became clumsy when it came to dodging attacks.

My sister looked like the animal on her name, jumping so she could reach the troll's throat. She &nbsp;was the shortest of us, as she was less than 1,50m tall, but she was twice as fierce as any other person I had known. Meanwhile, Argentea hit the troll with both her sword and her spiked shield. Her attacks didn't cut as deep as my sister's nor they were as accurate, but she did a good work standing in the way of the troll so he couldn't reach Indi, who had clearly caught the troll's attention with his fire spell. As I had heard on stories, the wounds of the troll had stopped healing by their own as soon as Indi burned him.

Not being able to attack Indi, the troll took the not-so-unwise decision of getting rid of his main obstacle first. He dropped his spear and attacked Argentea with his claws. She blocked the first claw without effort, almost dodged the second, and didn't saw the bite coming. The creature's curved fangs pierced armor and flesh altogether. I couldn't hear Argentea's scream, but I saw her face distorted in a mask of pain. She wouldn't be able to stand another attack like that.

-Argentea!- I cried. I was still laughing to keep my curse on the troll, which probably made it a pretty awkward moment.- Step back! I will heal you!- Indi pointed at the wand hanging from his belt and said something.- Don't worry, I don't need it!

Argentea looked at me, then at the troll, there was no way she could step back to me without risking a deadly attack from him. But still, there wasn't defeat on her eyes. To my surprise, she charged towards the monster with her shield. The troll was twice as heavy than she was, armor and all, but yet she put all her weight on the charge and pushed him back many steps. She made a gesture for me to approach, which I was already doing. I could feel Indi's deep blue eyes staring at me in expectation. For a moment, I feared that my healing magic wouldn't work, it was so difficult to cast a spell without hearing what was saying. But again, magic responded to my voice and I felt the warmth of the healing energy flowing through my hands. Argentea's wounds closed, right in time to take another atack from the troll. He was too close to me. I don't believe I would have survived an attack like the one that almost knlcked down Argentea. But, fortunately, my sister was still there. While the troll was distracted filing his claws on Argentea, my sister delivered the final blow, stabbing him in the eye. How she was able to perform such a deed with a creature that doubled her on height escapes me, but it was an instant kill and the troll fell to the ground, presumably making some sound that would have made my description prettier, had I been able to hear it.

As we couldn't know if the troll would be able to resume his natural regeneration after a while and come back to life, we set the corpse on fire, just to be sure. While securing the perimeter, we found the troll's lair not far from our position. It was a warm yet foul-smelling cave, and we moved there to rest for a while and heal our wounds. It had been a tough fight.


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CHAPTER 17

Indi couldn't wait to question me about what had happened during the fight. I didn't fully understand why, but he was very concerned about the healing spell I had casted on Argentea. But he'd have to wait to tell me whatever he wanted to say, as I still couldn't hear anything. I was starting to worry that I was never going to recover my hearing, though I suspected it was only temporary. Meanwhile, Indi engaged my sister in an argument that made my sister mad enough to allow me to realize it was all about me. Argentea tried to play the mediator, while I felt completely displaced for not being able to understand what was going on. I realized how Indi must have felt when we were three elves in the group and we spoke Elven in front of him.

After a while, the ringing turned into a buzzing and I started hearing again, though all sounds were muffled like I was underwater. Cat and Indi had already stopped arguing and everybody was more concerned with keeping the perimeter safe and packing up some pieces of art and jewelry that we found inside a chest. Who would have guessed that trolls could have a taste for that kind of thing?
When I spoke to say that I was feeling better and ready to go on with our trip, everybody stopped what they were doing and started asking me how I felt, all at once. I was completely overwhelmed, I had never felt comfortable being the center of attention. I told them I was "fine, fine, thanks" and, as I realized Indi was holding himself back with not asking anything sensitive too soon, I asked him directly:

-Indi what did I do during the fight to upset you? Was it because I healed Argentea?
-Lady Argentea.- she corrected.
-Oh, yes, sorry.
-That was the reason, yes,- explained Indi- but I am not upset. It's just that you shouldn't be doing it.
-Why? I may have saved her life!- I complained.
-I don't mean that what you did was wrong, but you shouldn't be able to do it! Your magic doesn't come from the gods!
-Stop saying that!- intervened Cat, visibly angry- You know nothing! My sister is a shaman, and shamans are healers!

And then they engaged again in an argument that I had a hard time to follow.

For some clarification: in the end, all magic comes from the gods, but divine spellcasters like Indi get theirs by directly worshipping a god, who rewards their faith by granting them magic. Arcane spellcasters, like wizards, are different: they learn how to manipulate the magic energies in the world, and need no approval from the gods to make their magic work. Though I revere (but do not worship) Eternity, it only reveals to me the secrets needed to make my magic work. After that, the magic is free for me to use. That makes me closer to wizards than to priests, druids and shamans. Yet there are divine rules barring the Gods of Magic from granting the knowledge of healing magic to wizards. But I'm no wizard either, and Eternity follows its own rules.

-Cat, he is right,- I intervened as soon as I could speak without rising my voice- I am not a shaman. My magic is different from Indi's, or Talda'syn's.

Indi worshipped a goddess. Talda'syn worshipped the more abstract concept of wisdom, and through it, the many gods that represented it. I just got whispered knowledge from a mysterious entity who had never asked for anything in return, worship or else.

-Don't be ridiculous, of course you are!- protested Cat with her usual "big sisters know better" voice.
-She isn't. She doesn't practice godly magic, but she is still able to cast healing spells. That kind of magic shouldn't exist.

It was irrational, but I felt hurt by Indi's words. I knew what he meant, but I had always felt my magic as a part of myself, as I had shown innate magic powers since I was a child, and I felt like he was saying that I shouldn't exist. Like Talda'syn. Like other kagonesti elves. I didn't want to have to stand those accusations again. Not from a friend. Not from Indi.

-I don't understand my own magic, but I know it isn't bad.- that was all that occurred to me to say. I knew Indi meant no offense. Just my old fears popping out.
-I don't know. Just be cautious.- I had never seen Indi taking anything that seriously before.- Magic shouldn't work like that.
-You are all overthinking everything.- grunted Cat, dismissing the conversation.- You worry too much. Let's get moving.
-Yes, please.- Argentea had deliberately remained out of the discussion and seemed increasingly impatient.- This is all nonsense to me. I don't like magic. All of it seems equally dangerous to me. But if you want my opinion, we should focus on the magic that is causing this winter first.
-That seems sensible.- I smiled, glad to end the conversation and get back to more productive concerns.


Blast you and your alien measurements. Of course, the system we lizards use would be almost indecipherable to most warm blooded soft skins like you. I love the interactions between characters there at the end. I know just enough about the setting that it makes sense, and keep it interesting. Keep it up, y'all have some fans out here!


Thank you so much! The character interactions will be pretty relevant during all the campaign and some of them will be pretty complicated, as a Wizard of the High Sorcery will join later in the campaign!

It was important trying to explain some rules of the setting at this point, as the fact that witches seem to break all the known rules of Krynn's magic and that nobody knows if patrons are gods or something entirely different will be really important later.

In the end we had a lot of setting specific stuff, and also a lot of interactions with characters from other stories, so setting the bases now seemed important.


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CHAPTER 18

Walking against the wind, finding the source of the unseasonable winter was easy. We met no more opposition before we arrived in a wide clearing, containing many concentric lines of icicles emerging from the ground like stalagmites. In the middle, just a frost plain from where the blizzard came. Indi and I were able to identify an extremely powerful magic coming from the middle of the clearing, but the winds worked as an impenetrable barrier that kept us from approaching. After studying the formation for a while, we came to a couple of conclusions: first, it was some kind of portal leading to another place, and second, we didn't have the slightest idea about how to close it.

We were getting to the conclusion that our best chance was to travel with Argentea to Castle Eastwatch and ask the Knights of Solamnia for help, when a mounted figure appeared, galloping out of the portal towards us, surrounded by a dark, cold mist. It rode a black warhorse and wore a full plate armor of the same color. The heavy winds that guarded the portal swirled around it like they didn't dare to touch it. As the figure approached and we prepared for combat, the horse vanished in a gust of black smoke, as well as the terrible aura that surrounded its knight, leaving only an old human male in a battered armor who, with no horse to ride, collapsed to the ground not far from us. I ran towards him. He was conscious, but he didn't look like he would last long without healing. He was pale from bloodloss, and his lips had turned purple because of the cold. He sat in the snow, unable to stand up.

-I don't have any healing magic left.- I said to Indi.- You'll have to use your wand.
-Are you insane? He has come from the other side of the portal! We don't even know who he is!
-Pay attention to your friend, girl.- said the old man.- Don't waste your magic on me. My wounds won't kill me. And the curse that Elvanna has placed on me is beyond all healing.
-Who is this Elvanna?- asked Argentea.- Is she responsible for this weather? Does she work for Nazhena?

The old man coughed a humorless laughter.

-Elvanna is the Queen of Irrisen, daughter of the Witch Queen, Baba Yaga. Nazhena is only another one of her followers.
-And you are?- I asked.
-Once I was known as Illarion Matveius, but now I am just Black Midnight, the Black Rider of Baba Yaga, harbinger of the Witch Queen's return.
-That's a quite impressive collection of titles that doesn't mean anything to us.- said Argentea.
-Who is Baba Yaga and why has her daughter attacked her... knight?- Everything seemed confusing to me.
-You don't really know anything up here in the North, do you?- the old man took a long pause, finding the strength for the next explanation.- Baba Yaga founded Irrisen, on the frozen lands beyond the Icewall, thousands of years ago. She chooses a new queen among her daughters every hundred years.- Another pause, while he took a heavy breath.- Once a hundred years have passed, she returns to set a new queen on the throne and take the old one with her.

For a few seconds, the Black Rider seemed lost in his thoughts.

-That's how it always was and that's how it always will be. Some of her daughters don't want to give up the throne, but that doesn't make a difference. Usually. This time, though, Elvanna has captured Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut and slain all her Riders but me. Now she is creating Winter Portals all over Krynn to conquer all the known lands.
-Are there more portals?- I asked.
-There will be. Nazhena was entrusted to open this one as a test. But there are more of them, awaiting the right time to be opened.- the old man released a long sigh.- Baba Yaga wouldn't allow it. But something has happened to her.
-So there's nothing else we can do but waiting here until that so-called Witch Queen comes back and punishes her unruly daughter?- asked Indi.
-If she comes back.- protested Argentea.
-She won't.- answered the Black Rider with a grim expression.- She should already be here.
He got lost on his thoughts again. When he became silent, he was so pale and quiet that he looked already dead. We looked at each other, inowing that there must be a reason for him taking so much effort in sharing all that information with us.
-Come here. Listen.- he finally continued with a grave voice.- Do you really want to put an end to this?
-We do.- I spoke for us all.- But it is beyond our cappacities.
-I will tell you what you must do: cross the portal, go to Winterthrone and find the Dancing Hut. It will lead you to Baba Yaga.
-A hut... will lead us?
-It knows how to find her.
-That sounds crazy at so many levels.- Argentea said.- Am I the only one who thinks this is a terrible idea?
-That's the best we have so far. But, how do we get to the other side of the portal?- I asked.to the Black Rider.
-You must possess the blood of Baba Yaga to cross it.
-So you...- I started to say.
-As a Knight, I bear her mark. I will pass it onto you, and you'll be able cross the portal.
--What effect will that have on us?- asked Indi suspiciously.
-You will be linked to her. You'll get part of her power and...
-And all her enemies, what a deal!- interrupted Cat.- I don't like this. Why us?
-Do you see someone else?- answered the Black Rider, in a humorless, tired voice.- It is just a matter of time before Elvanna sends her minions after me. In this state there's no way I can survive. All I can do is passing on Baba Yaga's mark to someone willing to find her in my place.
-This idea about finding some Witch Queen so she can abduct her own daughter seems terrible.- protested Argentea.- We must have more alternatives. The Knights of Solamnia...
-We cannot refuse any help we can get.- I answered.- This is big. We have to keep all of our paths open.
-Everything about this mark is suspicious.- Indi intervened- ,We could end bound to someone who is thousands of years old.
-That is a risk we must take.- I said.- We have the destiny of Krynn in our hands. I don't want to be the one who turned her back on it.
-It's not our responsibility, Kileanna.- Cat reminded me.
-Now it is. I will do it.

No matter what the Black Rider had said, I thought of the mark as a burden, not as a reward. I was going to be bound to an ancient and cunning being of great power. That couldn't be good. But someone had to do it, and I was the most adequate for it: Indi had his family and his life in Kalaman, Argentea a bright future in the Knighthood and a suitor waiting for her, and my sister could live a normal life among the kagonesti without me. But what did I have, aside from a hopeless dream of finding a place to call home? This was a much better fate that the one that awaited for me.

-What do we have exactly to do?- I asked to the old man. He gave me an intense gaze, and he produced two items: a plague doctor mask and a lock of white hair.
-These are two of the keys to make the Dancing Hut work. You know the rest.
-What about the mark?- I asked. I was very scared, but I did my best to conceal my emotions.
-You will have to take it. It is tied to my life force, I cannot relinquish it voluntarily.
I opened my mouth, confused, but any sound refused to come out of it.
-Take my life. If you don't, Elvanna's forces will and it will be all for nothing.
-There must be... another way.- I said, terrified.
-There isn't.
I pulled out my dagger. I was shivering. A part of myself really wanted to do it, slowly and painfully.
-Don't do it.- commanded Argentea- We will find another way.
I didn't listen. I knew what I had to do. Cat grabbed me by the hand holding the dagger.
-I will do it.- she said.
She didn't really want to. She was abhorred by the idea. But she was resigned to do it as long as I didn't have to.
-No. This is my choice. I will.- I managed to show a resolution that I really didn't have. I approached the old man- Are you really sure, Black Rider?- I asked.
-Go ahead.

Something inside of me cried for pain, blood and suffering, but I was quick. Again, taking a life was disturbingly easy. A dagger through the throat, a gurgling sound, and he was dead.
The mark came to me just as easily. There was no pain, no visible surge of energy, no flashy lights. It was just like a flash of insight, a moment of inspiration. For a moment, all the experience and knowledge of an ancient and wise mind poured into my head, but it all happened so fast that I couldn't get a hold on it. Having a glimpse of her power also allowed me to sense something familiar in it, in her magic. Was that the potential of my magic? It seemed almost god-like. For a moment I understood Indi's position, and I thought that maybe that kind of magic shouldn't exist.

It happened so quickly that the rest of the group didn't even notice anything. They were confused about what had happened until I spoke:

-Now we can go through the portal.- My own serenity surprised me. I had just killed a man.- I can share the mark with three people. Three riders.- I chuckled.- It will protect us from the storm as well as from... other things. I am still unsure of how it works. It binds us together in a way.
Indi and Argentea didn't like what they were hearing. At all. Cat just looked worried about me, as always.
-Are you OK?- she asked me.
-Yes, I am. It was... strange. I know things I never learned. And I feel... somewhat different.
-But... You are still you, right?
-No. I am a creepy old witch who eats her children. Now I am going to kill you all.
I was smiling.
-Definitely, you are still yourself.- said Argentea, trying to hide her smile.
Cat seemed relieved.
-Let's cross the portal, then!

I approached Cat and I drew an invisible circle.on her forehead with my finger: the midday sun. She wasn't scared at all. She'd entrust me with her life without thinking about it twice.

-Cat, My Red Sun.- I said.
-That's all?- she asked.

Indi approached hesitantly.

-I guess I'm next. I must be crazy.

I repeated the process with him, drawing an invisible line on his forehead, with a half circle under it.

-Indi, My Black Midnight.
-Hey! Why am I the Black Midnight? Is it because I worship a goddess of darkness?
-What!?- Argentea couldn't believe it.
-Zeboim. I thought you knew.
Argentea sighed.
-I am traveling with an evil cleric. This is just so perfect.
-I am actually a druid.- corrected Indi. From her looks, Argentea didn't know the difference and didn't really care.
-An evil druid then. So much better.

I intervened.

-He is a good person.
-With the exception that, by definition, he isn't.

Indi didn't attempt to discuss Argentea's words. He had probably faced that kind of arguments many times before and knew that arguing was pointless.

-He has helped us.
-That doesn't mean anything.
-Ladies, ladies!- Indi was almost laughing.-No need to fight over me, specially when someone could come across the portal, following this one.- he pointed to the dead rider, who laid with his face againt the snow.- We should move.
-Argentea, I need to share the mark with you.- I said.
She looked at Indi, then, at Cat and finally she looked me in the eyes for a while, like pondering how much she trusted me.
-I don't want to bear the mark of some old witch. Who knows what kind of effects could it have on us?
-It will be temporary.- I explained- Next dawn it will be gone and you'll decide if you want it back for one more day. But if you want to stay behind, it's fine.

Then we wouldn't have to leave Blond behind. I'd be sad not to have Argentea coming with us, she had been a real friend, but I didn't want to put any pressure on her.

-Alright then. Give me the mark. I cannot turn my back to my responsibilities.
I lifted my finger again and I drew a line on her forehead, and then a half circle over it: a rising sun.
-Argentea, My Bright Morning.

After providing Blond with some food and a winter blanket, we crossed the portal. The wind and snow magically stayed away from us.

Not so far from there, there was probably a very concerned man, worried because his future fianceé never arrived. At least, that was what I thought at that time.


About the last chapter, I'd like to make some clarification about the mark of Baba Yaga. (Dalindra will probably explain it better than me)

We had some players that had already told us that they might not come all the sessions. We had some players that might be joining later in the game. And, finally, we had some recruitable NPCs during the adventure (like Argentea) who could end joining the party.

We couldn't have such a big party all the time, specially when the game was written with 4 players in mind. So we needed to find a way to explain in game why, if we were so many people traveling together, there would be only 4 of us adventuring at each time.

Here, our clever GM thought that it would be cool mimicking the structure of Baba Yaga + 3 knights to keep the group limited to 4 characters.

We knew the mark theoretically protected the party from some things, so we didn't usually risk taking with us someone who wasn't protected by it. And the knights would be chosen each day so the group could change at the beginning of the day. That made sense inside the game, and out of the game everything remained mostly the same.

And what happened if the character with the main mark died? We didn't know at the time, but the mark passed on to one of the 3 active knights at random.

Choosing Kileanna as the bearer of the mark was... OK, somewhat imposed out of the game xD
I was the only player who didn't have to miss sessions (and in the rare cases I had, it was usually for a reason that made Dalindra unable to come too), and all the players thought that, being a witch, my character should have the mark. The fact that all the other players were like "I don't want it, it will surely screw us up" made the decission easier. I mean, I was also sure that the damned mark would really end screwing my character up too, but they left me no choice!!!

This reminds me a lot of how Kiani ended being Hurricane Queen in Skull and Shackles because no one else wanted too. Seriously, we need more power hungry players in our games!!! (Or maybe not xD)

Also, about the Geas. Dalindra hated it. It forced us to follow the path as written and he wanted to give us choice. Anything that we did should be made because we wanted to, not because we were under some powerful magic effect that forced us to do so.

So, no geas on us. That really made the difference, in my opinion, as all the questionable choices we had to make were on our own consciences. And at a given moment we finally decided to follow a completely different path. That surely made Dalindra's job as a GM harder, but the resulting story was so good and interesting.


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Derailer of Threads wrote:
About the last chapter, I'd like to make some clarification about the mark of Baba Yaga. (Dalindra will probably explain it better than me)

Not much more to explain. It was just like that.

Derailer of Threads wrote:
The fact that all the other players were like "I don't want it, it will surely screw us up" made the decission easier. I mean, I was also sure that the damned mark would really end screwing my character up too, but they left me no choice!!!

Fear is the little death, Kileanna. However, I think I have GMed too many horror games; you see, my players are becoming too cautious. I think they were expecting the mark would blow them up in pieces or so for the entire AP!

Derailer of Threads wrote:
Also, about the Geas. Dalindra hated it.

I HATED IT with passion. Such a lazy tool!

Derailer of Threads wrote:
That surely made Dalindra's job as a GM harder, but the resulting story was so good and interesting.

It was harder, yes, but also funnier. I love when my players surprise me. I don't like railroads when I play, but I HATE them when I GM.


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CHAPTER 19

We found ourselves teleported into a frozen plain. The strong wind had stopped, but the temperature was even lower than before. Even in the times when Southern Ergoth was ruled by the White Dragon Overlord I had never experienced such an intense cold. The sky was blue, but in the distance we saw yet another blizzard coming. We'd better find a safe place before it got to us.

-Look!- said Cat pointing to the north.-There's a town down there!
-We might be able to get there in a few hours, before the storm arrives.- Guessed Argentea.
-Hey! What are you doing here?- I heard Indi saying. We all turned to face him. Blond was standing there, only a few steps apart from us.- How did you cross the portal?
-I followed you.- he answered in an absent voice.

I was glad that he had found his way to us. Blond used to have serious problems remembering even simple things, like when it was time to eat, or when he had to go to sleep. I was afraid that he couldn't get to Linsel by his own. At the same time, I was still curious about him. But, how had he managed to follow us? Had Nazhena branded him somehow? Did he have Baba Yaga's blood running through his veins? He still held so many secrets.

-This is so strange.- complained Argentea.- I don't trust him. The troll recognized him. He commanded him to attack us.

So that was what happened. Being deaf in that moment, I had ovbiously missed many details.

-But he didn't.- I answered.
-Of course. He was unarmed.

She had a point. I couldn't actually say that I really trusted him. But he had saved my life.

-We'd better find cover before the blizzard gets here, don't you think?- reminded us Cat.- We'll discuss about Blond later.

So we got back to the trail, walking as fast as the snow allowed us, trying to get to the town as soon as possible.

We hadn't walked for long when Indi swore that he heard screaming and barking being carried to us in the wind. The visibility wasn't bad, but there were some heavy snowdrifts on the path that kept us from seeing the giant insect until we were almost right next to it.

-Stay away! Stay away!- cried a female voice as we approached. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that she wasn't addressing us. There were four people trying to keep the insect (a giant mantis) at bay while attacking it from a safe distance in a desperate attempt to make it release what it held on its mandibles. The mantis had killed one of the dogs pulling the sleds, and the others were barking like crazy and snapping bites at the mantis. The prey it held so tenaciously onto wasn't a dog, though: I was horrified to see that it was a human male.

The woman, who wore clothes so heavy that her features were difficult to make out, seemed to be in command of a similarly heavy clothed group. They did their best to defend themselves against the mantis, although their weapons were so basic that they made my slingshot look fancy. At least their leader had a handcrafted longbow, and she was doing a fairly good work catching the insect's attention and staying in constant movement so it never reached her. It would be easy for her and het companions to run away and leave the insect alone with her prey, but they refused to leave one of their own behind. I admired them for it.

I wanted to save the man if it was still possible, but I was almost out of spells, and my mind tricks were useless against such simpleminded creatures. So, before my sister ran into the battlefield, I leaned my hand on her shoulder and wished her good luck. It was more than mere formulism, Eternity had taught me how to make subtle changes to people's fate. It usually translated to what people used to call good luck. After doing it, I cackled violently. Indi and Argentea were starting to get used to it (even though it got on their nerves), but the townsfolk we wanted to help seemed completely terrified.

Argentea and Cat rushed into the battle, eager to save the man. He had stopped moving, so we didn't know if it was already too late. Still, we had to try. The battle was quick, we had faced much worse things than a giant mantis, and it was an easy task. When the fight was over, I knelt by the fallen man, to find out that he still held on to a thread of life. Indi used his wand to bring him back into consciousness and to heal the other townsfolk who had got injured during the fight. The woman who seemed to be the leader of the group approached us and, surprisingly, addressed me, saying a single word in a language I didn't understand.

-What? -I asked in common. Since we had two humans with us I rarely spoke in Elven. I felt comfortable with the simplicity and expressiveness of the common tongue.

-Thanks. -She repeated in a heavily accented Common. You are foreigners, aren't you?
-How did you guess that?- asked bare-armed indi.

The woman smiled. She had a sincere and open smile. A long red braid showed under her fur hat. Unlike my hair, which was red as blood, hers was red as autumn leaves. I felt an immediate and unexplainable connection with her.

-My name is Nadya Petska.-she said.- My companions cannot speak your language, but they are also grateful.

"That's why they look so much at me?" I thought. I didn’t enjoy so much attention.

-Did you say Petska?- I asked.

She looked at me with her eyes wide open and shining with hope.

-Why? Have you heard it before?

I didn’t know how to do it. I wasn’t specially good with words. But if she was somehow related to Thora, she deserved to know everything.

-Are you Thora’s mother?- I asked without hesitation. Her eyes grew even bigger. She was almost in tears. I repeated to myself that she needed to know, she deserved to know so she could stop worrying.
-How do you know about Thora? Is she alright? Nazhena took her and I haven’t heard from her since then!
-I am sorry. Nazhena trapped her soul inside a doll. She asked us for help, and we released her. There was nothing else we could do.
She broke into tears. She tried to thank me for letting her known, but words didn’t come into her lips.
-I am sure that she brought us to you. She wanted us to protect you and your people.- I wasn’t lying. I believed that the immediate connection I had felt with Nadya was related to the time Thora had made me experience her feelings. Maybe her spirit was still with us.
Nadya forced a sad smile, and I wished I knew how to comfort her.
-Thanks.- she finally managed to say.- Now, we better head to Waldsby as fast as we can.- she tried to switch into an emotionless voice, but she failed.- There is a blizzard approaching our position. I will lead the way.

As we walked, Nadya asked us many questions about who we were and where we came from. She had found the Winter Portal and, though she didn’t know what it was, she didn’t have a hard time believing that we had got there by crossing it. She explained to us that we were now in Irrisen, the frozen land beyond the Icewall. I asked her about the mix of fear and curiosity that her people seemed to have for me.

-You are a witch, aren’t you?- Answered Nadya.
-That’s what some people say, yes.- And never in a positive way, I could have said.
-Witches are the highest caste here, in Irrisen.- she explained.- Most of them are direct descendants from Baba Yaga, the Witch Queen. They call their lineage the Jadwiga, and they rule over everything. Nazhena is one of them.

Nadya already seemed to have recovered from the bad news, but her voice broke again when she said Nazhena’s name. She breathed deeply before she continued her explanation.

-Even non-Jadwiga witches are treated with respect, and enjoy advantages that most people don’t have. And they don’t usually go around worrying about the lives of worthless peasants. That’s what makes my companions so confused about you.

That explained everything, including why Nadya had addressed me like I was in charge, even when my contribution to the battle had been more than humble.

-But I guess things are different in the North.- Continued Nadya- My husband used to tell me stories about how life in the North was. Some of his family came from there. He would have been very pleased to meet you.

I didn’t have the courage to question Nadya about her husband, but my sister did and Nadya didn’t take any offense at it. She told us that her husband had died on a hunting expedition some time ago. Since then, she had to care for her three children all on her own. Only thanks to the help from some kind neighbors had she been able to keep going out in hunting expeditions, which was her only way to provide her children with all that they needed. Definitely, Nadya was a woman who had lost a lot, but still she told us her story without complaining a single time. When Argentea called her a strong woman, she just answered: “life is harsh here” and didn’t give it more relevance.


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CHAPTER 20

We were all tired, and our shoes weren't all that appropriate to walk through the deep snow. Nadya and her people wore large pads on their feet that allowed them not to sink into the snow to their knees. We didn't, which made our advance much slower and doubly as tiring. In the end, we had to seek cover by a slope and set camp there, as both the storm and the night were right upon us. We were able to light a fire to warm us up and cook a meal. Nadya and her people set up some tents around the campfire. They were really efficient: if we had to do it all by ourselves, the tents would probably had ended up being blown away by the fierce winds.

We were done setting the camp up when we saw a figure approaching. The storm was already near and it was getting dark, so we didn't get to see her exotic features until she was only a few steps away from us. She was tall and completely hairless, with sharp pointy horns and hooves as feet. Her pale blue skin and the way her inappropriately light clothes danced in the wind gave her an ethereal and alien beauty. She waved her hand at us and kept approaching, causing obvious discomfort among Nadya and her peers.

-Be careful. Most winter fey are allied with Elvanna.- whispered Nadya.

The faerie spoke in the local language, using a soft and friendly voice.

-Of course.- answered Nadya in the common tongue, in an attempt to take the conversation into a language we could understand. She did her best to appear calm- Take a seat by the fire and share our meal. You'll be safe from the storm here.

The faerie thanked Nadya in Common, a bit amazed by the unusual choice of language, but she asked no questions. She presented herself as Mierul, a wandering bard, and took a seat as far from the fire as she could. Winter fey seemed to have a particular dislike for fire.

Mierul didn't notice or didn't care for the discomfort that her pressence caused. She was quick to engage in any conversation, showing special interest in us. My sister and I were elves, an unknown race in Irrisen; Argentea wore the sigils of a foreign knightly order; and Indi's clothes didn't even have sleeves. Only Blond and Nina had looks that could have them mix in with the locals.

Mierul was very curious about where we came from and what we were doing there, and she asked a lot of questions. Nadya did her best to spin a story to cover for us, but her explanations were far from convincing: who would believe that we came from a town not far from there? Apparently, Mierul did, or at least she was subtle enough to pretend she did. She soon became tired of asking so many questions and getting so many uninteresting answers, so she shifted back to engaging everybody in small talk and telling stories.

Mierul was actually pretty likeable when she wasn't inquiring about everything, and I learned some new, interesting things about the region thanks to her stories. One of the most surprising revelations was that humans in Irrisen had next to no rights, unless they were witches or Jadwigas; while winter fey, giants, trolls and other monsters seemed to be accepted and valued members in Irriseni society. It was so different from the human-centric world where I came from, where common races as elves and dwarves were considered strange for human standards, and more exotic or monstrous races were regarded as dangerous creatures that were best avoided or killed. Not that I had ever considered befriending a troll anyway.

It was already late evening when the blizzard reduced its intensity to a heavy snowfall , but Mierul insisted on leaving and nobody asked her to stay. A winter fey shouldn't have issues with traveling in the cold or in the dark. Indi wasn't sure that letting her go was a good idea. Nadya thought she was most likely a spy for Elvanna or Nazhena, but we couldn't act against her out of mere suspicion. What would we become if we started killing people just for working for our alleged enemy?

After Mierul was gone, we were finally free to get into our tents and get some sleep. Some people stayed longer, but I felt really tired. Argentea, my sister and I shared a tent with Nadya, while Indi and Blond slept with the other men. Humans,unlike elves, tended to give so much more relevance to gender division.

As Nadya had volunteered for the first Watch and Cat was more interested in learning some survival tricks from her than in sleeping. That meant that Argentea and I were left alone.

-You, help me taking off this armor.- she said as I entered the tent. She spoke to me like I was her squire and I found it amusing.
-Yes, milady!- I answered, attempting a serious tone but completely failing at it.
-Show me some respect!- I couldn't tell if she was faking annoyance, annoyed for real or just a bit of both.
-I am sorry, Lady Argentea.-'I really wanted to apologize, but the "lady" thing didn't come out naturally and I couldn't help but laughing at my own fake tone.
-You are not funny.
-I am sorry, milady, I am nothing but an illiterate wilder elf. I know nothing about protocol, but I'd love to learn.- despite my playful tone I was being serious, at least with the second part.
-A bridge troll, that's what you are.- said Argentea, finally smiling. Had she been playing with me all along?
-What's that even supposed to mean?- I asked, laughing.
-It means that my armor is not going to remove itself.

I had completely forgotten about the armor.

-Yes, milady!

I helped her remove her armor and it was then that I noticed all the cuts, hits and wounds she had got the past few days. Her wounds had been healed by magic, but her clothes and her skin were still stained with dried blood.

-Gods!- I cried. I hadn't realized how painful it must be for her to be the one who most often got the enemy's attention.

Argentea looked confused at first and it took her a while to realize the reason of my shock.

-This is nothing.- she finally said.
-Let me see.- I insisted. Cat was also prone to suffering some serious "this is nothing" quite often, and I had some experience treating them. Under her shirt, her skin was a map of bruises of all colors.- Gods!- I couldn't avoid crying out again.

Argentea seemed to find the whole situation funny, but I was genuinely worried for her.

-Lay down. I am going to clean away all that blood and see what I can do with those bruises.
Argentea opened her mouth like she was about to complain (probably because despite the proximity of the fire, it was still pretty cold), but something in my look made her think about it twice.

Against all odds, she obeyed. My improvised healing tools consisted on some pieces of cloth (most of them from Argentea's own torn clothes) and a bottle of some kind of strong alcoholic drink that we had found at the Lodge. It would have to suffice. I couldn't do much more than cleaning away the dry blood and relaxing some stiffened muscles on her back, but it seemed to please Argentea. She was surprised to see that i actually knew what I was doing.

-Maybe I am not very good at fighting and my magic shouldn't exist, but I am a pretty good healer.

Since I was a child I had been fascinated by those small points in the body that, when pressured the right way, were able to ease the pain... or cause great amounts of it. Being able to put my knowledge into practice in a beneficial way made me feel useful.

-My handmaids were also pretty good at this.- said Argentea with a hint of sadness in her voice.
-You were good friends?- I asked.
-They were servants.- She answered, too abruptly. She wasn't very good at lying.
-There's nothing wrong about caring for them, or missing them.
-Most people wouldn't agree.- she explained- Showing too much empathy for servants is often seen as a sign of weakness.
-I don't think empathy should ever be considered a bad thing. All this social status thing is new to me, but I think that caring for the people under your command is what makes you a good leader.

She gave me a honest smile, but she had the same compassionate look in her eyes that I used to give to Cat when I realized that something was beyond her understanding.

-It's more complicated than that.
-Maybe you make it more complicated.- I answered with a smile. When had I become my sister?
I continued rubbing Argentea's back for some more time. I had finished a while ago, but she seemed to be enjoying it and I definitely was. I finally forced myself to stop as I feared upsetting her with non requested attentions.
-I am done.- I announced, taking a seat by her side.

She turned around to face me. Despite all the bruises, she was beautiful. I had to hold myself back not to take my hands back to her body. That would be such a terrible idea. As far as I knew, humans weren't as open as kagonesti elves were about same sex relationships; and among all humans, Argentea was one of the traditonal kind. Besides, she was almost engaged.

-Do you want me to return the favor?- she asked.

"You are trying to make it difficult for me, right?" I wanted to answer. I was convinced that her proposition was much more innocent than I would like it to be.

-I am fine.- I answered.- I didn't get hit as often or as hard as you were.- I laughed nervously.- I'd be dead if I had been.
-As you wish.- She shrugged and covered herself with the blanket. I laid by her side, maybe closer than I should, but she didn't seem uncomfortable. She had seen me the previous night snuggling innocently with my sister, and then with Indi. Maybe she thought it was a common thing for me.
-Are you feeling better?- I asked, as an excuse to lay my hand on her back again and touch her skin.
-Much better. I think I needed it. Thanks.

She leaned her hand on my shoulder. She had a firm touch. I looked her in the eyes, trying to read her mind. I wanted her touch to be some kind of signal, but I knew it was probably just my desire blinding my thoughts. If I acted upon my instincts, I would freak her out for sure. Then she'd never be the same again with me. I didn't use to have many friends before, aside from Cat and Nina. Now that I had found new ones, I didn't want to lose one of them like that. But still, I allowed my fingers to run gently across her back, while I stayed aware of any signs of discomfort on her behalf. Instead she sighed softly, and her she held me tighter for a moment before slipping her hand down my arm.

I only wanted to give up and get carried away by passion, but I forced myself to be cautious. A part of me refused to believe that Lady Argentea Malassene, scion of a Solamnic noble house, could be receptive to my attentions. After some time caressing her body, trying to get a clear sign that I wasn't going to experience a painful rejection, I managed to gather up enough courage to make a hesitating attempt at slipping my hand under her belly.

-Finally.- she muttered, pushing her body against mine. Her reaction was so different from anything that I had imagined that I lay paralyzed for a second before letting myself go. It was almost funny how I had been so close to upsetting her because of my fear of upsetting her.

Argentea was as passionate and energetic as she was on the battlefield and I, free of my insecurities, released the wild animal inside of me. Last time with Indi I had held it back, fearing to hurt him like I did in my dreams. But this time was different, maybe because Argentea was a woman and the people that I hurt in dreams weren't. Whatever the reason was, I just let myself go and got completely carried away by passion, until I was so exhausted that I could barely lift a finger. Then I laid my head on Argentea's chest.

-It's been so long since the last time...- murmured Argentea with a dreamy voice.
-Have you done something like this before?- I wasn't as surprised as I should. She seemed somewhat experienced.
-Just a few times. It's a good way to keep temptation away and remaining pure.- she explained.
-I don't understand.
-I have to remain pure for my future husband. Which means no sex until I marry. But we all have needs.

To me, she made no sense.

-So what's the difference?- I asked. She looked at me in absolute confusion.- Between being with me and being with a man?- I clarified.
-Everything.- She said as it was the most obvious thing in the world.- Haven't you ever relieved yourself?
-Yes, but...
-This is the same.

It didn't feel like the same at all, but she seemed adamant about it, so I didn't push the discussion forward. I felt too comfortable using her as a pillow to start an argument at that moment.

-You are almost as hairy as Indi.- I said, trying to change the topic. Poor choice: Argentea looked somewhat embarrassed. Elves were hairless everywhere but on the head, so I was amused by humans' hairy bodies. Who would have thought that human females aren't as proud of their body hair as their male counterparts seem to be?
-I try to remove it, but it keeps growing back.- she excused herself.
-I like it. It is cozy.
-You aren't making it better.- she laughed.

More or less about that time, I heard the voice of my sister calling from outside of the tent.

-Can I get in?-she asked.- Are you already done?
-Sure, come in!- I answered.

Argentea looked all around her like she was looking for somewhere to hide. Then she swiftly arranged her hair and attempted to give the most solemn look she could.
My sister got in.

-You weren't half as subtle as you think you were, you know?- she said with a smile. Argentea blushed.- Don't worry, I don't think anyone else has heard you two. And I have kept Nadya distracted. But you might want to get dressed before she comes in. I'll wait outside.- she added, noticing Argentea's embarrasment. And while she was leaving, she adressed to me in elven.- Seriously, another human? One day you have to explain to me what you see in them.
"They aren't elves." I thought, and then I couldn't avoid smiling as I added to myself: "And they are cozy too."

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