"A dead hunter, killed by an animal," Letitia muses out loud. "Not a terribly difficult mystery, all in all. We should best be moving to the gate as we had planned. I see no reason to hunt down this one's quarry for him, be it a white weasel or normal one. I get the sense he is at least posthumously vindicated for his unusual vision."
Letitia starts to walk back the way the came while thinking about what she knew about weasels -- large or regular sized -- and whether they would pursue injured prey.
Knowledge (nature): 1d20 + 9 ⇒ (15) + 9 = 24
"True, and while it does happen, it doesn't happen as often as you might think. Still, we should press on. There is nothing we can do for him now" Alec said solemnly. He did not take the loss of the man lightly. It reminded him of his own losses.
Samuel was already collecting any spare supplies that he could so Alec took watch checking both directions, spear in hand.
|GM My Red Sun|
Perception Alec: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (13) + 6 = 19
Perception Samuel: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (3) + 7 = 10
Samuel checks over the body looking for anything useful that the dead man won't be needing anymore. he finds:
Ripped (but still usable) cold weather outfit
Quiver with 2 magical arrows
While he is checking the body, Alec's keen eyes spot a pack a few feet away, half buried in snow.
inside he finds:
3 days rations
hip flask of applejack
giant weasels have long, slender bodies and short legs, and come in a variety of colors from reddish brown to snowy white. Giant weasels are active and tenacious predators, and have a reputation for being as clever as they are quick. Both highly aggressive and extremely territorial, they frequently attack creatures that are much larger than they are. They are much more likely to attack if their territory is encroached on or if they are cornered or injured.
Find anything useful? Ashling mostly just keeps look out in case something attacks or whatever attacked tries sneaking up or returning
Callix asks, "Is there any risk the weasel will attack others? Could it be feral? Or feytouched?"
Letitia considers Callix's question. After a moment's thought, she announces, "If it was indeed a giant weasel that killed him, then we are likely in or near its territory. They're aggressive, and not afraid of attacking something larger than the are. If Mr. Kepp also injured it before withdrawing to die of his own wounds, then it will be even more likely to attack."
She then turns to look directly at the Ulfen. "It doesn't need to be feytouched to be dangerous."
"A few minor supplies; some rations and his flask, smells like applejack. And a journal it seems. Maybe one of you would like to read it.
"There is always a risk the weasel will attack, unless of course Kepp managed to mortally wound the beast as well...I wouldn't think the odds in our favor though. Anything could happen in these woods though, especially now. We'll just need to stay alert."
Samuel saves everything found and takes special interest in the applejack "Bear this with me. That fool of Dryden Kepp had a real good taste for drinks"
He opens the hip and after testing its smell, he takes a sip at the juice while looking at Alec "What does the journal say? It should be saying what the hunter was doing in this place of the woods. Perhaps it might give us clue of what killed him in the end"
Callix looks at the witch, "True, though the timing seemed interesting. When there's an invasion happening, I'm less likely to believe in coincidences.. A giant ermine would be one more thing to harry those that would be protecting the area -- especially when it killed a skilled hunter who knew it was out there... "
She shrugs, "So I wasn't so much worried about us as the folk who live in the area... and trying to figure out if we should deal with it so it doesn't kill again... And if we thought the fey were responsible, that would certainly suggest to me that we should."
"Its likely something to do with fey. Nature growing where it shouldn't? sounds up their alley", Ashling takes and goes to read the journal aloud
Letitia arches an eyebrow. "Indeed? You'd bother with hunting down an animal that's possibly a symptom of the Irriseni gate, rather than deal with the gate itself? If the beast kills another, it's a shame; but if we fail to close the gate and Irrisen's army pours through? That's a tragedy."
She rolls her eyes as she falls in behind the trackers. "But you will do what you will."
Callix chuckles, Looks like the truce is over... Well, almost... Now she's just only belittling my opinion by implication.. She then says, "To use your healing analogy, it's the first lesson they teach you, the one to break you out of the 'common wisdom' - sometimes, if its severe, you need to treat the symptom to ensure that the patient lives long enough for you to treat the disease. Which is why I was asking -- something that may kill a lone, likely drunk hunter is one thing. A creature that will ambush and kill many... that's a whole different problem."
Letitia's ice-blue eyes narrow. "Quite so, though if this land is so soft that hunters may wander around drunk without fear, then the winds of winter will reap a terrible harvest when they blow through here. Or, to use another analogy, a general could send his entire army chasing after a lone soldier for fear that he may kill a farmer or two. Meanwhile, the enemy moves in while he's distracted and causes the slaughter of entire villages. Based on what we're facing, which analogy is more apt?"
Both of you, calm... Her voice having a bit of stoicism too it, A split team dies. Both analogies suck. We have a mission, we don't know what's going on and need to stick together and keep our wits about us. Arguing like children bear no fruits worth having
Callix closes her eyes for a moment in silent prayer, Hero, give me strength.... Unless this is some sort of test, in which case, I'll point out that I'm already your faithful, and I don't need more reasons to drink....
She opens her eyes and looks at Letitia with a sigh, then says, "I thought we were past this. I really did. We understand that your people are naturally superior to the weak southerners, and will cut through like a flaming scythe. Now, as someone who cares about that chaff, some of us may want to minimize the damage. As I said, I was still trying to diagnose the problem. If it's a feytouched killing machine left to destroy the defenders, then we should deal with it. If it's one dumb, feral animal - even a dangeorous one, then we should probably just leave a warning to those who may be following -- though, having said that, I do wonder how long you'd think it would take us to deal with this? Your drive and desire to get to the gate seems to be stronger than any sense of prudence."
She holds up a hand, By the tankard, I'm going to need to start preparing silence just to not end each day with a headache.. "I know, you're going to tell me it's because you know what lies beyond. I understand that, but I also understand that the only good that comes from rushing in and dying is that we won't be around to see what happens when Winter comes. So, you'll just need to realize that we all want at least some of the same things, but we're tempering your single-mindedness."
And, really, I'm not sure I'm loving the idea of rushing into some pre-selected destiny... I swear, Hero, if you and Torag did work this out when mother left the North, I'm going to pass the test of the Starstone just so I can kick you myself...
She sighs, "So, given we've no reason to think it's not just a powerful, dangerous - but dumb animal, then I'd suggest we leave a warning and head on to the gate -- but keeping on the lookout, because we might cross into this thing's territory. I kind of wish we had a bird to do it with, but I'd imagine the Wardens have special signs and markers to pass messages, Samuel?"
She then spins to the newcomer, "And, for the record, I am calm, and while I may find Letitia singleminded, she's also smart and knows what she's about - and if we're not allowed to discuss our opinions to come to a good decision, then we may as well give up now. And, incidentally, if you've an opinion to offer, rather than chastising us for ours, I'd love to hear it."
Letitia folds her arms in front of her and sets her jaw. "Allow me to explain my urgency to you. Before we reached the lodge, we encountered a fey with whom we spoke. It recognized me as an exiled Jadwiga, and one of us addressed me using my name." She keeps her eyes leveled at Callix and does not glance at the guilty party.
"Should that fey return to Irrisen and give word to Queen Elvanna that I live, she will know that her order to kill me was not followed. My mother would face the Winter Queen's wrath, and perhaps my sisters as well.
She takes a step closer, her blue eyes flashing. "Our goals align when it comes to reaching the gate and closing it. But I will not agree to wasting time searching for a giant weasel while it takes us away from our shared goal of ending the threat of Winter to these lands!"
Her voice had risen, but now she brings it back to its normal tone. "Our objective should always remain the gate. If we succeed in closing it..." she sighs, exasperated but conciliatory, "I'll assist in hunting down the beast that slew the drunkard."
My opinion is we focus. emotions are pointless they only muddy things up and we will succeed. there are no if ands or buts about it. .. his death was his own fault if he was drunk. any hunter worth his or her salt knows not to hunt under influence of toxins.She takes a breathe and sighs I do not fear what is to come or what lay ahead. no gods or magic lay hold over me. I've seen worse than whatever the north landers can do, this mess will be put to rest. Her tone during all of this eerily cold from one who looks no more than 15 or 16. Despite wearing little more than chain shirt and light clothes she doesnt seem cold in the slightest, her eyes have a cloudly look and she rarely looks at anyone directly
Callix turns back to Letitia and says, "I'm not going to lie, there's a part of me, in my mother's voice, screaming that we should do all we can to encourage Winter to turn upon itself in that way. But, I am not my mother, and if your family was willing to do the right thing where you were concerned, then they may not be irredeemable. And, as much as you've been a massive pain these last few days, I'll not have you torturing yourself for allowing harm to come to your family... "
She then says gently, "But my earlier point still stands. If we rush recklessly to the gate, all that will happen is that your family's actions will have been in vain. You need to stop thinking of us trying to temper your haste as an obstacle to be knocked over and realize, as you said, our goals align...." By the Tankard, she's wound so tight I should pour my aleskin into her just to get her to relax... especially since there's one more thing I'm worried that she's not considering..
She sighs, "One thing, though, that you should think on, is what you will do if we find that some part of your family is in the van, guarding the gate on this side. I swear on the Accidental God himself that I hope it isn't so, but you need to be ready for that possibility... and I think we need to know what you'll do in that case... because the lives of thousands of southerners, soft as we may be,", she adds with a slight smile, "need to come first... and I really don't want to raise an axe against you."
She then allows herself a laugh, and jerks her thumb over her shoulder, "Especially since I think I may need you to explain to me what this one is going on about. I mean, I know we've already found a compromise, but I still don't know what it is she thinks we should be doing, despite being asked directly... Think of it as a puzzle that requires your intellect, because it seems to fly in the face of my common sense."
Letitia's lips press together tightly as she glances to the newest member of the party. "I'm unsure if you're agreeing with us or arguing for argument's sake." She decides not to comment on Ashling's claim to have seen worse when in fact her eyes appear to be able to see very little.
"You say we should focus. I'm in agreement. We should focus on our task, which should be the gate." She turns back to Callix. "I am not advocating a reckless headlong attack. I'm simply stating that the longer we wait, more fey and winter creatures will pour through. We should be expedient, and not bother with a beast that could cause us harm and cause us further delays."
Her face, usually tightly controlled, takes on a strange, conflicted expression when the Ulfen speaks of the possibility that her family members could be in the attack force. She swallows, and her voice comes out very softly. "My sisters wouldn't harm me, nor would I harm them. They would be our sole allies on the other side of the gate, I promise you."
"If it's a normal beast, it's not our concern, not our priority. If it isn't, I'm sure we'll encounter it on our way. Regardless, we have a course to keep. This way" Alec said as he resumed his march through the snow.
Survival: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (17) + 5 = 22
|GM My Red Sun|
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While Letitia and Callix argue about the priorities of the group, Alec and Ashling take interest in the journal. Dryden has been tracking a giant white weasel through the woods for the past few days. the journal includes some rough sketches of tracks the hunter saw, and marks a location nearby that he set up several bear traps to try to capture the animal.
Later pages in the journal describe the forest changing. Dryden writes of shifting grasping trees, floating lights seen in the foliage, and a small cabin that he had never seen before appearing in the woods. he describes the small cabin as sitting atop four tree trunks like legs, and a child's doll sitting on a small chair in front of the cabin's door.
Anyone else reading these words might think the poor hunter had lost his wits out in the cold, but after the things you have seen so far in the woods you might take his words a little more seriously than others.
Pushing the group forward, Alec and Samuel get back to the original path and again start moving towards the location of the winter portal.
As you move forward, you spot a clump of evergreen trees with no snow on the ground between them. It looks like someone has cleared the snow from a 10 foot circle of ground and dug around in the pine needles below the snow.
So he was tracking a giant weasel. it also sounds like he's been dealing with magical creatures. floating lights, moving trees, a weird cabin with legs
"A cabin with legs?!?" Letitia shrieks, head snapping around to Ashling. Her eyes are wide and horrified, and her whole body convulses for a moment.
She runs over and grabs up the pages of the journal, scanning them frantically. Finding the passage, she reads it over a couple times. Her knees go wobbly and she staggers over to a nearby tree to stay upright. Lazlo her owl hoots in distress as well, flapping his silent wings.
"It's already here. A border hut, here," Letitia whispers.
Knowledge (arcana) (hut): 1d20 + 9 ⇒ (17) + 9 = 26
Knowledge (arcana) (doll): 1d20 + 9 ⇒ (3) + 9 = 12
+1 if it's considered ice or cold magic
Letitia takes several deep breaths to calm her fractured nerves. "We-- I mean, the Jadwiga -- make the huts in honor of Grandmother. They stand and watch the borders of Irrisen. The dolls, they have something to do with them as well."
Callix' pale face goes even whiter at the description, stunned as her mother's tales and warnings come flooding back, By the Tankard! It's an Irrisen border... here in the South... complete with the dolls and trapped souls... Her thoughts race, and for one of the first times in her life, she actually feels cold and shivers, feeling like she's drowning until she grabs onto the strangely distant sound of voices and uses them to return to the moment, and herself.
"They're Sentinels... The dolls are Sentinels, made from the souls of children... and they tirelessly follow any who would dare defile the Irrisen border... Like my mother," she says breathlessly, looking up at Letitia, her expression a mix of shock and worry.
Letitia fights to measure her breathing, but it still comes out through trembling lips. She meets Callix's eyes when she talks about her mother. Her Jadwiga pride instantly springs to the fore, but the reality -- that she ironically has more in common now with the Ulfen -- shatters that.
Her expression softens, her eyes staying on Callix as she speaks. "I was taught that... anyone fool enough to test our borders... deserved their fate."
Callix notices the flash in Letitia's eyes and nods at their shared reality... We may be the only two who understand all of this... or, more accurately, maybe between the two of us we can build an understanding...
She says softly,"These were the nightmare stories she would tell me, the witches and their trolls crossing the border to steal Ulfen children and make them into dolls..." Her voice trails off and she coughs, then says, "She was a Blackraven, and she crossed the border to save those kids..."
She looks down, then takes a breath and looks back up at Letitia, her voice wavering and taking on an element of pleading, "I didn't listen to her stories beyond the nightmares... I didn't learn how to fight these things, their weaknesses... I'd never need to know, it was all a million miles away... except, now, it isn't."
|GM My Red Sun|
Letitia does indeed recognize the description of the hut, there is little doubt in her mind that this is indeed a border hut. Firm evidence (if more was needed) that the Jadwiga are behind the fey invasion, and a confident statement by the Witches that this land is now theirs.
Though he didn't draw out a map, it is apparent to Alec that the location described is between your current spot and the winter portal.
Letitia knows slightly less about the doll. as a Jadwiga herself she never really had to concern herself with HOW the borders were defended, only that they were. Porcelain dolls are quite common in Irrisen, and some exceptional ones are designed and produced in Whitethrone. Many Jadwiga girls grow up playing with the beautiful dolls. There were rumors of souls being stitched into the dolls to serve as sentinels, but those stories never went into great detail about where the souls came from or how those animated dolls fought to protect the borders.
"Wait here. This could be a trap. I don't see any tracks leading in or away from the copse. Let me take a look."
Alec slowly approached the trees, shield up and spear readied. He studied the ground with each step he took, ever wary of another trap.
Perception: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (9) + 6 = 15
Discussion about the journal
Letitia listens to the story Callix tells of her Ulfen mother, but elects not to tell her side of the story she and her sisters had heard while they were children. That of the foolish barbarians who wouldn't learn that ice is cold and kept trying again and again to invade. So the Jadwiga would make more border huts which seemed to enrage the Ulfen even more. They seemed so silly to her young mind.
She presses her lips together tightly and stays silent.
At the clearing
Letitia checks her crossbow to make sure it's loaded, watching closely as Alec moves forward.
Perception (Letitia): 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (3) + 8 = 11
Perception (Lazlo): 1d20 + 11 ⇒ (14) + 11 = 25
Callix follows silently, trying to remember any tiny shred of information from her mother's stories, Should have known the witch would be no help... Can't believe I allowed myself to be so vulnerable, especially not to her... I thought we'd found a common understanding and a desire to stop this, but... maybe they how the witches work - some sort of way to get past people's defenses....
She pokes up at Alec's warning, drawing one of her throwing axes, and scanning for threats.
Perception: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (19) + 4 = 23
Samuel has a tough time to follow up the discussion "I heard those tales also from my mother... but do you think the houses are real? What true nation sends dolls to defend its borders?"
Once arrived at the clearing Samuel attempts to help Alec find out what is going up there.
Perception: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (17) + 7 = 24
"This might be the place where the hunter set the traps. Perhaps we would do better to just avoid the clearing" some kind of idea comes to the Sentinel at that time, and uses a wooden heavy stick from around to throw it at the needles on the snow.
I heard the same tales from my Father. He always told me he grew up there. Always told me that the houses and dolls existed, that they were dangerous. Upon arriving at the clearing most trappers set traps on game trails and other areas, a clearing would be too risky
Hearing the others speak of the legends and cautionary tales from their ancestors, Letitia again thinks bitterly of her reversal of fortune. These people were talking about her country. These sentinels were the guardians of her country. It alternately filled her with pride and dread, that Irrisen was so feared by the common folk. Yet, she was now on the outside, and in order free herself from winter's grasp, she would have to sever the connection to home once again.
While they walked, the conversations about the dolls sparked a memory. She started humming an old Irriseni tune.
"Dolly, dolly, porcelain white,
sitting, watching on the sill.
Dolly, dolly, all through the night,
sitting, watching, oh so still.
Dolly, dolly, what do you see?
Is it a soul of the Ulfen men?
Dolly, dolly, why do they flee?
No one can escape Irr--"
She cuts herself off, swallowing hard. "My mother taught me... other tales." She pulls the hood of her cloak up close, blocking off the stares.
As the calls of alarm echoed through the group, Alec halted his encroachment several feet from the cleared snow. He stood still for a moment, only his eyes darting around and taking in the landscape. The others were right of course. There was no immediate threat here, and seeking one out would only delay their defined course of action. His fingers relaxed ever so slightly on the haft of his spear as he slowly reversed his movement, back stepping into his own footprints a few times. He then spun on his heel and headed back to rejoin the group.
"You're right. No need to disturb the clearing. Besides, the hut should be on our way based on how the journal reads. Let's press forward."
|GM My Red Sun|
Samuel throws a branch into the bed of needles. no traps spring, but when the ground is disturbed one of the trees around the clearing shifts towards the stick, looking almost like a person leaning in for a closer look. the movement only lasts for a few seconds, but the tree is definitely in a different position now.
The group backs away, all agreeing that it does not seem like a good idea to go looking for more trouble.
Assuming you all do leave the clearing and move on:
not much further along the path, Alec and Samuel find more tracks of a large animal, along with a blood trail heading into the woods. because they are already watching for it and because they read about them in the hunter's journal, they easily spot three bear traps hidden just off of the trail.
When the tree moves, Letitia takes an involuntary step back. She considers what it is that she had seen, but whatever it is, she is eminently grateful that her traveling companions elect to go around them.
Knowledge (nature): 1d20 + 9 ⇒ (16) + 9 = 25
When the trackers stop once more, she stays quiet, waiting for them to report what it is they've discovered. Lazlo's head turns this way and that, keeping a close watch as he sits perched on her shoulder.
Perception (Lazlo): 1d20 + 11 ⇒ (10) + 11 = 21
|GM My Red Sun|
After seeing the tree shift you are able to determine a little more about it. The tree is in fact a creature known in your homeland as a Frost Fir. They are thought to be an offshoot from treants, though they tend to be much smaller and always resemble evergreen trees. They are not particularly aggressive, but can be incredibly territorial especially when protecting their young.
Samuel waits for a while looking at whatever moved in the forest but ultimately moves on "We have a task to be done"
The Sentinel points to the traps location "Look there! Those must be the traps from Dryden Kepp. We better watch out and avoid this area"
Samuel looks if some prey has fallen on the traps, and then after a short exploration looks for a better way to continue the groups path while avoiding the hunter traps.
Perception: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (19) + 7 = 26
Survival: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (2) + 7 = 9
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"I've seen these take off limbs before. It's a shame to leave them behind, especially if they are Kepp's. Anything caught in them will likely die slow and painfully, but they are tricky to disarm..."
Alec looked at Letitia. "...and we've wasted enough time already."
Survival: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (11) + 5 = 16
"This way" he said as he tried to continue leading the group forward.
Callix suggests, "Would be easy to set warning flags to keep people from blundering into them... Especially once they're snow-covered. I mean, I can't imagine that giant ermines would be dissuaded by flags, but it could help those that follow after us."
If only we could teleport these into the Irriseni camp...
Letitia folds her arms as she spots the areas where the bear traps are. "You could make them safe by setting them off, correct? Say, take a long branch and jab the mechanism?"
Whatever the group decides, she follows along and is otherwise quiet.
|GM My Red Sun|
The group quickly moves on from this area, after Samuel and Alec successfully spot and point out the two bear traps that are still primed. Samuel and Alec then push on ahead, scouting out the path forward while Letitia and Callix decide whether to mark or set off the remaining traps.
The following spoiler is for anyone who is scouting ahead on the path right now, if you are all moving forward together you can all read it
At least a dozen boulder-sized chunks of ice litter the clearing ahead of you. the ground of the clearing rises into a small hilltop, which has a small hut perched on top of several thick tree trunks.
After checking the ice ahead Samuel walks back some feet to the positions of the group rears. The Sentinel whispers "The ground of the clearing rises into a small hilltop ahead." he looks to Leticia "Your tales might be true, because I spotted a small hut perched on top of several thick tree trunks. If those are some of the sentinels of the border you say... how is it better to proceed?"
The man pats his musket "Shall I just shatter the hut with my bullets?"
Whatever concerns Letitia had about the bear traps evaporate at Samuel's words about the hut.
"Hold your fire, gunman," she says, her voice quavering. She moves up to him, putting each foot in front of the other in a deliberate manner despite her instincts screaming at her to run. She forced them aside, telling herself that she needed to see it for herself. She had to be sure.
When she reaches Samuel, she whispers to him, "The tree trunks are legs. It can move. Best not to agitate it."
She follows him up to the edge of the clearing, where she sees the small hut. Her breath catches briefly, but she forces herself to breathe steadily.
"Do you believe me now, southerner? Though you're less of the south than you'd like to think, right?"
Lazlo swoops from a nearby branch to land on Letitia's shoulder. The two of them study the area surrounding the cabin closely. "What is with the blocks of ice? Where did they come from?" she wonders aloud. "They would have to have been cut from the river, then hauled up here. Or, perhaps created with Winter magic. But regardless of how, why? Why are they here?"
Before venturing into the clearing, Letitia and Lazlo study the area closely.
Perception, Tish: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (15) + 8 = 23
Perception, Laz: 1d20 + 11 ⇒ (15) + 11 = 26