About Cуровую зиму
'Never interrupt an enemy that is graciously making a fatal mistake.'
'Those of us about to die, would rather not'
Level : 6
HP : 53
HP : 53
Initiative +3 (0 natural,+3 dex)
STR 9 (-1)
Standard Racial Traits
Ability Score Racial Traits: Aasimars are insightful, confident, and personable. They gain +2 Intelligence and +2 Charisma.
Defense Racial Traits
Celestial Resistance: Aasimars have acid resistance 5, cold resistance 5, and electricity resistance 5.
Feat and Skill Racial Traits
Skilled: Aasimar have a +2 racial bonus on Diplomacy and Perception checks.
Magical Racial Traits
Spell-Like Ability (Sp): Aasimars can use daylight once per day as a spell-like ability (caster level equal to the Aasimar's class level).
Spell Focus: Enchantment
Greater Spell Focus: Enchantment
Concentration Check +13 (level 6 + Int + Trait)
Caster Check +6 (level 6)
BAB +3 ; CMB +3; CMD 16
From the prison
2 throwing knives
Map and paper work from the prison
Scroll of Glitter Dust in a ceramic case wrapped in leather
Scroll of Mount for Edmin
Scroll of Mount, Communal
Scroll of Minor Image caster level 2
Scroll of Levitate caster level 3 x2 wrapped in leather
Scroll of Infernal Healing caster level 1
Scroll of Disguise Self caster level 1, in a ceramic case wrapped in leather
Scroll of Disguise Self caster level 3, in a ceramic case wrapped in leather
Scroll of Protection from Evil caster level 1
Scroll of Scorching Ray caster level 3
Scroll of Blood Transcription caster level 3 in breast pocket
Scroll of Mirror Image caster level 3 x2, tied in right wrist sleeve
Scroll of Fox's Cunning caster level 4, in breast pocket
Scroll of Invisibility caster level 3
Scroll of Invisibility caster level 4 wrapped in leather
Scroll of See Invisibility caster level 4 in a ceramic case wrapped in leather
Scroll of Shield caster level 2 x2 tied around left wrist
Scroll of Fly caster level 5 in breast pocket
Scroll of Haste caster level 5 in breast pocket
Scroll of Stinking Cloud caster level 5 in robe's left sleeve
Potion of Expeditious Retreat in a wax mold
Potion of Cure Light Wounds in a wax mold
Potion of Cure Light Wounds
Headband of Intelligence +2 (Skill Acrobatics/Diplomacy)
Ring of Protection +1
Cloak of Resistance +1
Masterwork Silver Dagger
Xen's Stylish and Beautiful hat
2 bottles of wine from the mansion
234 gp 3 sp 3 cp
Spells currently memorized (Wizard level 5 + Intelligence bonus):
0 Level (DC 15/16/17)
Daze, Detect Magic, Mage Hand, Message (cast)
1st Level (DC 16/17/18)
Mage Armor (cast), Magic Missile x2, Shocking Grasp x2, Vanish, one more
2nd Level (DC 17/18/19)
Mirror Image, Hideous Laughter, Invisibility, See Invisibility (cast), Scorching Ray x2
3rd Level (DC 18/19/20)
Cуровую's Call forth the North, Fireball (cast), Fly (cast), Haste
Most likely spells for fort
0 - Daze, Detect Magic, Mage Hand, Message
1 - Disguise Self, Charm Person, Magic Missile (x2), (either) True Strike if the had Bref's head, or Shocking Grasp or Color Spray
2 - Invisibility (x2), Scorching Ray (x2), See Invisibility (she will cast Levitate via scroll or Darkness or Pyrotechnics or Web or Summon Monster II bonded item if needed)
3 - Fireball, Cуровую's Call forth the North, third slot either Hold Person or a second Fireball
Prelude to adventure:
The black passageways deep underneath the city streets were lit by a single torch that was well past half spent and began waver in the darkness. The filthy torch bearer's steps looked less unsure to Surovuyu.
"Are you sure this is the way Weross? You seem ... Lost." She half admonished her filthy wererat guide.
From ten paces in front of her the torchbearer twitched his long furred nose and sniffed the stale air, "Yessss, yesss my lady, Weross knows these tunnels well. We are close now, yesss, close."
The pair travelled further down the underground corridors, and as nearly another half hour passed with no clear sign of what Surovuyo had sought, bowel entrance to the prison she was hoping to infiltrate. Her patience had worn thin.
"Weross we have clearly travelled long enough to be well under the prison, if not passed it. We entered close enough, are you certain of your steps? I have paid you well in coin, I pray, for your sake, that you know what you are doing." Even as she asked the question, unseen by her guide, Surovuyo made intricate hand gestures and incanted arcane words in a whisper.
"And my lady is quite generousss with her coin, but otherssss have even been more generous with Weross in making sure my lady does not draw breath on the surface again. " and with that the Wererat dropped the nearly spent torch to the ground and kicked dust into the embers and plunged them in a deep darkness.
In a fluid motion the Wererat threw a poisoned dagger towards Surovuyo, the blade flying in a straight line for her chest ... Only to be deflected by the unseen Shield she had invoked a moment earlier.
In the darkness the Wererat stood in brief disbelief, with his dark vision he followed the woman's movement, she was backing up, her hands moving in further intricate patterns and a long chant coming from her lips.
How could this human see in the dark?! He drew a rusted curved blade and licked it, make a shrill squeek of defiance and charged the woman.
Again to his amazement the woman side stepped his assault, and before he could begin to shift his movement and reorient himself for another lunge magical Sleep came over him.
The Wererat fell to the ground, forced senseless by the Aasimar woman who was not hindered by the darkness.
Weross, for the briefest of moments awoke, as blood slipped through his mouth, nose, and the long gash that rung his neck. The last thing he saw was a magical light being cast upon a silvered dagger in the hand of Surovuyo.
"I guess I'm going to have to do this the hard way then." Surovuyo said to no one in particular as she began her trek back to the streets above.
For GM Douglas M
Epilogue: Because of the events above, Cуровую зиму will have to commit a crime just to force the issue and get into the jail. The premise behind this is she want to make contact with the other PC(S), for whatever reason you deem fit (as best that can be run with the campaign), free them, thus making them in debt to her.
0 - All; Acid Splash, Arcane Mark, Dancing Lights, Daze, Detect Magic, Disrupt Undead, Flare, Ghost Sound, Jolt, Light, Mage Hand, Message, Open/Close, Penumbra, Prestidigitation, Ray of Frost, Read Magic, Spark
1 - Alarm, Burning Hands, Charm Person, Color Spray, Disguise Self, Grease, Infernal Healing, Mage Armor, Mount, Magic Missile, Obscuring Mist, Protection from Evil, Protection from Good, Ray of Enfeeblement, Reduce Person, Sculpt Corpse, Sleep, Shield, Shocking Grasp, True Strike, Vanish
2 - Alter Self, Bear's Endurance, Blood Transcription, Bull's Strength, Burning Gaze, Darkness, Detect Thoughts, Eagle's Splendor, Flaming Sphere, Fox's Cunning, Frigid Touch, Glitterdust, Gust of Wind, Hideous Laughter, Invisibility, Levitate, Make Whole, Mirror Image, Mount, Communal, Protection from Arrows, Pyrotechnics, Scorching Ray, Summon Monster II, Web
3 - Clairvoyance/Clairaudience, Cуровую's Call forth the North, Dispel Magic, Flaming Arrow, Fireball, Fly, Haste, Heroism, Hold Person, Lightning Bolt, Sepia Snake Sigil, Stinking Cloud
Bound in handsome blue leather. The book has the Richter family coat of arms on the front and the Warden's initials (MR) engraved onto it.
1 - Alarm, Mage Armor, Clarion Call, Color Spray, Magic Aura, Magic Missile, Mount, Shield
2 - Bull's Strength, Flaming Sphere, Hypnotic Pattern, Minor Image, Mirror Image, Summon Monster II
63 blank pages remain in the spellbook.
Tacitus’ Spellbook “The Heart of All Flame”
Bound in the crimson, scaled leather of some indeterminate reptilian beast, this large locked tome bears its title proudly in Common across the front cover. Inside is found not just spells but a lovingly written treatise on the beauty and purity of flame and how ice, when it grows cold enough, also burns.
0th – standard plus spark
1st – burning hands, dancing lantern, expeditious retreat, mage armor, magic missile, sleep
2nd – bull’s strength, burning gaze, flaming sphere, protection from arrows, pyrotechnics, scorching ray, web
3rd – dispel magic, flaming arrow, fireball, fly, sepia snake sigil
4th – fire shield, ice storm, stoneskin, wall of fire
Cуровую зиму's Treatise on the Great Noble Houses of Talingarde that Will Bend the Knee or Will Be Brought Low
Suzerain King Markadian IV
Note King Markadian is respected and pretty popular, most people perceive his rule as on the whole both fair and good.
King Markadian IV court
Chancellor Morton, Pilkington's superior, is in charge of finance. Morton is seen as strict and meticulous, he is also seen as a man who is simply enforcing the law. He may be disliked, but he's respected rather than feared.
The High Pontiff of the Church is seen as an amiable old dodder.
Princess Bellinda is universally beloved.
The Inquisition is feared, but that's not part of the Royal Court.
There was a bad Lord Chief Justice a few years back, but he was eventually exposed and banished. Justice Turpin resigned in disgrace, six or seven years ago. He was allowed to retire to his country estate. Presumably he's still there.
Forged paperwork for the Coast Guard Cutter incident shows that the Frosthammer has been requisitioned to the service of the Talirean Admiralty for an urgent mission to Bamborough, the watchtower where the Wall meets the sea. It's cosigned by Baron Kirkmont, the Second Lord of the Admiralty, a man who does not suffer fools gladly.
Wealthy in the North
The clan of the Praceys, and their rivals the Bearwicks. Lord Stanely is probably the single richest noble in the north, but he's eccentric and strange.
In the central regions of the kingdom, a certain proportion of the nobility has elvish blood; the former royal family, the Barcans, were half-elves. It's also more common to find nobles who dabble in arcana, or are scholars. But in the North, the nobility is mostly affiliated with the house of Darius. They're all human, and mostly fighting men (almost all men). The North abuts the Wild (where you're going), separated by the Wall. So, the local leadership has always had to be ready for sudden incursions.
In the last couple of generations things have mellowed a bit, and some families (like the aforementioned) have grown wealthy in trade as well as land. Some towns have grown into small cities, and some semblance of polite society has emerged there. (That's where you saw your cousin Elise.)
The Richters. Family of the last King's wife, so maternal relatives of the current King. Duke Richter is the King's first cousin. Large, well connected, greedy. An unqualified Richter getting appointed to a civil service job? Not a surprise.
This must be Mathias Richter. Yes, that's right -- he went to the Wizard's Academy back in the '60s. He must be in his seventies by now! Still got his feet up in the trough, apparently.
Wizardry has gone out of style among the aristocracy in the last two generations -- not consistent with the pure worship of Mitra, or something. Richter and a couple of others have been the examples of "good" wizards... honorable and pure Mitrans, through and through. Maybe he is honorable and pure, who knows. Doesn't make him good at his job.
The Flandrys, a continental House noted for producing bold adventurers and dragonslayers. Ensign Sir Domink Flandrys was slain by Captain Ondenkirk.
Sir Dale, a Barca, Cousin twice removed to the last Barcan king, son of the second most noble house in the kingdom, died in an expedition with Sir Nonus.
House Vandermir, uses a variant of the arms of House Barca -- the ruling dynasty of Talingarde before they were overthrown by the current royal house, the Darians. The Vandermirs were originally a cadet branch of the Barcans after all.
The Havelyns are a very old family -- among the oldest. They've been noble for centuries. They have produced a number of famous aristocratic leaders, warriors, generals, and priests. (They were among the first to adopt the Mitran faith, way back when.)
Their coat of arms is an arm against a field per fess indented argent and sable, emerging from a thicket of thorns sanguine and grasping a branch aveline, surmounted by a Mitran sunburst or.
The Old Talirean name for a hazelnut was "aveline". This tree, common today, was an introduced exotic at first, and so became associated with nobility, especially the nobility of service. Several noble families have names derived from this plant, or make use of it in their coats of arms. -- Cуровую зиму's Treatise on the Great Noble Houses of Talingarde that Will Bend the Knee or Will Be Brought Low
Notes from Sir Edmin Al'Roth
The Vandermirs were firm allies of the Barcans. Got to keep their lands in the Victor's Amnesty. The Barcans are mostly a bunch of arrogant, inbred, obnoxious incompetents, but you don't know if that applies to the Vandermirs as well.
Possible skill advances at level up
Escape Artist +1
Knowledge Geography +1
Knowledge Nature +1
0 Level Daze
1st Level (spells not yet prepared today)
Charm Person, Disguise Self, Grease, Mage Armor (cast), Magic Missile, Ray of Enfeeblement
2nd Level (spells not yet prepared today)
Alter Self, Flaming Sphere, Invisibility, Scorching Ray
Charm Person, Disguise Self (cast), Magic Missile, Vanish
Invisibility (x2), See Invisibility
The magister's tower
He had four scrolls. Three of them were destroyed. One survived -- a single scroll of Dispel Magic, caster level 8th.
He had two potions; both were destroyed.
He had a spell pouch, which included a number of interesting spell components, including enough diamond dust for two castings of Stoneskin. Unfortunately, diamond dust burns just great. Destroyed.
Magical cloak... yeah, you guessed it. Destroyed.
His masterwork silver dagger, on the other hand, came through intact. So did his set of keys. Of his various rings, four, worth 50 gp each, survived.
His metamagic rod (Lesser Extend Spell) survived.
His wand of Fireballs survived.
Caster level 8. DC 18 Reflex save. Nine charges left. (Two charges used)
-- a complete alchemist's lab (value 200 gp, weight 40 lbs, includes some rather bulky and fragile glassware.) Would give +3 on craft (Alchemy) checks.
-- a Cauldron of Brewing (+5 on craft [Alchemy]).
-- 66 gp in gold and silver, tossed rather carelessly into the back of a drawer. (The Magister wasn't very interested in money.)
-- miscellaneous spell components, alchemical reagents, gewgaws and doodads. None look immediately valuable. If you like, you could spend ten minutes and do a craft (Alchemy) check to see if anything interesting could be done with them.
-- A locked strongbox that was pushed under the Magister's bed. It's about 2' x 2' by six inches thick, and weighs about 20 lbs. The lock looks pretty strong. The strongbox bears the trefoil symbol for "magical hazard".
The magister's Tower part II
Note please add a masterwork healer's kit from the acolyte (5 uses left) and total of 57 gold pieces from the acolyte and dwarf, a fire forged masterwork longsword, another master work sword (from the dwarf), masterwork shield, masterwork armor to the inventory.
Treasure: The Captain had the following items in his cabin.
6,000 gp cash. This was his payment from the Cardinal. It's neatly stacked good-quality Talirean crowns in a small chest. (Note that just carrying this amount of money around is a bit of an encumbrance, so keep track of who has it.)
Another box containing letters of credit worth 2,500 gp against banking houses on the Continent. (The Captain didn't love banks, but he saw the sense of having an emergency cash reserve.) Whether these could ever be converted into cash in Talingarde, and if so at how steep a discount, would be an Appraise or Knowledge check.
The Captain's petty cash box. This contains 86 gp, 575 sp, and 400 cp.
A pouch of pearls. (Appraise check needed, but they look pretty valuable.)
A statuette of a mermaid, carved from scrimshaw. It's lovely work. (Appraise check needed.)
A massive golden ring with a ruby, carved with some unknown crest. (Appraise check, possibly some Knowledge as well.)
A leather vest covered with stitching and shiny metal buttons. It radiates faint conjuration magic.
A vial of some clear liquid. It radiates transmutation.
The merman's trident. It's a +1 trident.
The Captain's other axe. It's a masterwork axe.
A barrel of glogg, national drink of Homeland.
Cуровую's Lingering Presence
School Transmutation; Level Bard 0, Sorcerer/Wizard 0, Witch 0
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S
Target creature touched
Duration 1 hour/level
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes
With this cantrip, you can cause the most minor of alterations to the touched target, decorating skin and hair with cosmetics, and altering the length, type, style and color of hair and nails. You can use this spell to add or remove tattoos or henna decorations, temporarily. If you use this spell as part of a Disguise check to change only minor details, you can perform this action as a standard action, and may allow for a +1 bonus to the check, but the spell is of no use for more involved Disguise attempts, such as to change apparent gender, race, or size category.
An appearance change generated with this spell might prove worth a +1 circumstance bonus to certain Bluff or Diplomacy checks, at the GM's discretion, particularly when dealing with a culture that has different standards of beauty than your own. (Such as finding a white pallor more dignified, long hair more alluring or finding tattoos unseemly.)
Cуровую's Call forth the North
School Evocation [Cold]; Level Magus 3, Sorcerer/Wizard 3, Witch 3; Domain Ice 3
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Call Forth the North spell conjures a whirling globe-shaped blizzard that appears with a loud bitter crack, and lasts but a split-second and draws the heat from everyone in the area of effect, leaving behind a rime of frost patterns on all surfaces, dealing 1d6 points of cold damage per caster level (maximum 12d6) to every creature within the area. Unattended objects also take this damage. The explosion of cold creates very little pressure.
You point your finger and determine the range (distance and height) at which the globe of cold is to burst. A snow white pea-sized bead streaks from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts upon a material body or solid barrier prior to attaining the prescribed range, blossoms into the sphere of cold at that point. An early impact results in an early detonation. If you attempt to send the bead through a narrow passage, such as through an arrow slit, you must "hit" the opening with a ranged touch attack, or else the bead strikes the barrier and detonates prematurely.
Call Forth the North turns small amounts of liquid to ice and damages objects in the area. It can freeze metals and objects vulnerable to cold.
Its like a Fireball but more in keeping with Winter Witch theme.
Zimu, you are a bit distracted by something you can't quite remember.
The Old Talirean name for a hazelnut was "aveline". This tree, common today, was an introduced exotic at first, and so became associated with nobility, especially the nobility of service. Several noble families have names derived from this plant, or make use of it in their coats of arms. -- The Book of the Great Houses
Stationery, special paper. Stationary, a thing unmoving or settled. Her letter signed with a little sigil like a narrow face with three eyes. She knows about the Cardinal. How? How?
The Cardinal is standing by the fire. Faint smell like dust and spices, overriden by woodsmoke and the sharp tang of magic. The Inquisitor coming to visit, riding to Thorn House down an alley of newly planted saplings, bright sun on new green leaves. The sunlight gleams on his polished armor, blue and white enameled breastplate of holy Mitra. Something. Something there. The Cardinal... has a weakness. What is it?
Sex and demons? Ridiculous rumor, but... why now? Your aunt's calm voice and hard hand. "For Grandmother's children, there are no coincidences." If you are clever you can dodge the blow, but you must pay attention.
Sex and demons makes you think of Jax, though you know that a tiefling can be formed in more ways than the obvious. The taint of the Abyss can spread... unpredictably. Still, Jax. What about Jax? Was he the man with the black sword in her letter? Or was that someone else? Who?
A name you heard once, half remembered, something in a story told, someone said that someone said. Who?
Hazelnuts and fire and the smell of spices, the connections are there, but under the snow and frozen ground like tree roots in winter. You are missing a piece.
Zimu has gone unusually quiet.
Surovoyu Zimu, they are piling the wood to burn you.
You can see that the branches are seasoned, not fresh, and pine. A compromise, of sorts. Hardwood burns slower, a more lingering death. But fresh pinewood smokes, allowing asphyxiation to bring merciful unconsciousness to the victim before the flames have done their work. Seasoned pine burns fast, and hot, but smokeless.
You can smell the pine from here. You will die smelling it.
* * * * *
Bref takes your hand. "Hello Witchy Witch!" he grins. His grin is a bit disrupted by the sword that has been jammed into his mouth; he has to talk around the hilt of it, making his speech a little mushy. You're mildly surprised to see him, but only a little, because this is a dream.
"Come come! Follow Bref!" He turns and scampers off into the icy winter forest. As you turn to follow him, you can see that a foot of sword blade is sticking out of the back of his head.
* * * * *
"Consider the wisdom of the bees." Your aunt cocks a glance at you. You don't answer. Best not to speak unless asked a direct question. A single bee, black and gold, drones through the summer afternoon.
No blow comes, so obviously this is the correct response. "Tens of thousands of them, armed and diligent. Yet all serve the Queen. The single Queen." Your aunt reaches out a hand, quite suddenly, and plucks the bee out of midair. She can do this sort of thing. All your family are talented in their different ways. "Look here." She holds the bee helpless between two fingers, squeezes its abdomen. The black stinger is forced out. You can just make out the tiny barbs, the bead of venom at the tip.
"Before the old Queen departs, she will lay a last brood of eggs. The loyal workers will feed them a special food, the royal jelly. These eggs will develop into new, young Queens." Your aunt takes the stinger between two fingernails, wiggles it a little. The captured bee buzzes frantically. "When the new Queens hatch, deep inside the hive, they fight. They fight to the death. And then the victor goes to the cells where the Queens yet unhatched are growing, and she stings them. She stings them and stings them until they die." Your aunt pulls the sting out of the bee. Then she crushes the insect between her fingers, flicks the tiny body away.
"Grandmother's Rule protects you until you are sixteen. This is a wise amendment, since otherwise each generation would murder the one beneath. Until then you may be punished, but not broken or killed, unless you yourself break Grandmother's Peace. But when that day has passed..." Your aunt holds up the tiny, barbed stinger before your eyes. "Remember, child. One Queen. One."
Chains, a token of your disgrace. You have always been brave -- nobody can take that away -- and you would walk to the place of fire with a calm, unhurried tread, as befits your name and your House. But crimes so monstrous, sin so great, cannot be allowed such dignity. You are dragged to the stake in chains.
* * * * *
"Deeper!" giggles Bref. "Into the woods, Witchy-Witch!"
Bref is dead, and looks it. His eyes are sunken, his face is grey, and he's just beginning to stink. But he scampers about with vigor nonetheless, leaping over stones and tree roots, turning like a dog to make sure you are following him.
"Into the woods..." You don't like these woods. You're a creature of the north, and a little snow won't ever bother you, and your eyes can pierce any darkness. But there's something about these tall trees, and the silence that they hold between them, and the smell of pine that's all around you, and the way the snow seems to beckon you forward...
Who lives in the center of the woods?
* * * * *
"A pawn, advanced to the final rank, may become a more powerful piece, though never a King, because a side can never have more than one King. So most typically, a pawn chooses to become a Queen.
"Queens, like the pieces themselves, come in different colors. Thus Queens may be White or Black or Red.
"Occasionally, it happens that a pawn chooses differently. In this case, the most typical choice is a Knight. While much weaker than the Queen, the Knight's special move means that sometimes he is a preferred choice." Two pieces are held out to you. They are both black Knights, but one carries a little black sword, the other an axe. "Some sets distinguish between a King's Knight and a Queen's Knight. One might think this odd, as strictly speaking there is no need, as they are the same piece with the same function.
"But of course, the game is always a simplification. In life, who knows? The difference between a Queen's Knight and a King's might be all the difference. All the difference in the world."
* * * * *
The Inquisitor is riding down the alley of fresh-planted saplings towards Horn House, which is really Thorn House. Cardinal Thorn, a thorn in the flesh of the kingdom. The wound a thorn makes is small, but if it becomes infected it can lead to great illness and even death. Sunlight sparkles on the Inquisitor's armor, bright blue and white.
* * * * *
Bref lopes before you, going on all fours sometimes. The smell of him is getting stronger.
The Oracle stands beside a tree and watches you as you pass. She is whole, but slightly transparent. "I warned you, Suvoroyu Zimu," she says softly. Her voice is faint, like the wind through distant trees. "You had your chance." She is fading slowly from view.
"Witchy-Witch, no talking! Follow Bref! Hee hee!"
The Oracle disappears from view, gradually growing more transparent until she is gone like a morning mist. As you walk deeper into the forest, you hear her voice, faint, fading.
"She defeated me, but she makes her own mistakes. She was wrong. Her spell succeeded. She was wrong about who was saved..."
You walk on, snow crunching under your boots. Ahead of you, Bref giggles.
* * * * *
The bell tolls noon as they bind you to the stake. This is how it is done: in the bright light of holy Mitra, that all may see how evil is punished.
The smell of pine is very strong.
* * * * *
Elise and you are dancing at the ball. But, oh no! You're wearing the same dress, all white and ivory. Best change color.
You both change at the same instant. Elise's new dress is jet black. What color is yours? You don't have a moment to look, because now you are dancing, and if you put a step wrong you'll die.
Elise and you are dancing, step and step. You hope she'll stumble but she doesn't.
"I strike," says Elise, "and you parry."
"I strike," you reply, "and you parry."
"I prefer the bowling metaphor," says Elise dreamily, turning to the music in a perfect pirouette. "I strike, and they scatter."
"But then you're not a queen," you reply nastily, "you're just a Queen pin."
Elise smiles, perfect teeth and perfect confidence. "This Queen will have no King, little cousin, but an Ace of hearts and another Ace in the hole, always. Black is the new black, little cousin, and clubs are trumps. Your Joker was wild, little cousin, but you lost him. What's left in your hand?"
"I have... jacks?" You're terribly unsure, and it's terrible to be unsure at the ball. You can't run away, because you can't get out of the dance. In a moment they'll all see and start laughing. Elise smiles, and her eyes are full of hateful triumph.
* * * * *
Sergeant Blackerly grins at you. Despite the massive claw marks all over his body, and the fact that his eyes have been cut out, he seems cheerful enough.
"Eh, cheating and stealing, selling and dealing... knew it would catch up with me sooner or later. I blame that dumb aristo bastard Warden, he should have been watching me. Hey, goblin. Can I have my eyes back?"
"Goblin eat stupid Blackie's eyes." Bref sounds smug.
"Little bastard... So, you're going into the woods? That doesn't seem smart. I used to patrol in the woods, out West. Farholde and beyond. Wild places. They said the trees walked. There were wolves, big and bad. And a goblin as your guide, yeah, that's not going to end well, even I can tell you that." Blackerly leans against a tree and begins shuffling a pack of cards, fwip, thwiiiiip.
"Are you a ghost? you ask. "Am I dead too?"
Blackerly laughs. "Oh, and they said you were a smart one? Look, you ate an Oracle. I mean, you bloody ate her, like with toast and bacon. You pretty much invited her in. What did you think was going to happen, hey? A nice clean dream? Maybe some sweet little riddles? Oh ho ho." Blackerly shakes his head. "You asked for it, sweetheart."
"But what are you? Dead? Undead? Or just a memory that I've dreamed up?" Although you only knew Blackerly briefly, you remember that you disliked him quite a bit. Being dead hasn't made him any more agreeable.
The sergeant spreads his hands and smiles. (The effect is somewhat ruined by his slashed, empty eye sockets.) "I'm dear old Sergeant Blackerly, same as always." He holds out the pack of cards. "Care to play a hand? Ah, speaking of hands, I see you still have that scar I gave you. That was good work, if I say so myself. Good work lasts. But of course it's not what's on your hand, but what's in it. You could have picked a card and you didn't, right? Like the lady said, you had your chance." Blackerly shakes his head, as if commiserating. Then he turns from you to Bref and gestures at the pack of cards. "Hey, goblin. High, low. You win, you give me my eyes back. I win, I'll tell you where there's food. Lots of food!"
"Really?" Bref rubs his chin, but then shakes his head. The sword stuck through his face gives the gesture emphasis. "No. Stupid Blackie cheat at cards. Also, lots of food where Goblin going. Also, Goblin dead."
"Ahh, little bastard. Goblins, worthless vermin, you..." His curses fade as you walk on.
* * * * *
Crunch, crunch through the snow. "Bref? Where exactly are we...?"
The scent of pine is very strong indeed.
The Fray Magister leans over the dead deer. "You see, here they are. These lesions along the legs?'
You nod. The Fray Magister is here to train you and your cousins in the rudiments of magic. He is a scrawny little man with a mop of wild grey hair. You don't like him, exactly -- you're not a child who does "like" much -- but he's pleasantly not a threat, and his lectures can be interesting.
The Fray Magister makes a neat incision and pulls out a fat, squirming larva. "The warble fly. The larvae are tiny, almost microscopic. They enter the host and begin chewing. Chewing and growing. It's quite painful, and can leave the animal incapacitated."
"Do they infect people?"
"In these parts? Rarely. There is a tropical species, related, that preys on humans with some regularity." The Magister stands and wipes his hands. "The larvae have bristles, which dig into the flesh and make them impossible to remove. They eat and eat and grow until they are ready to pupate, at which point they chew their way out of the deer and depart..."
"So, the mother stings the deer, and inserts the eggs?"
"Ah! The Magister smiles fondly; he likes a good student. "No! She does not. She lays the eggs, but not on the deer." The Magister raises one finger and begins to hum. "uuuuUUUUUuuuuuUUUUUuuuuu... The warble fly produces a very distinctive drone. Animals flee as soon as they hear it. Also, it is large, and brightly colored. Actually rather lovely to look at... but conspicuous. Any potential host will notice it, and run away, or defend itself.
"So the fly attacks an intermediate host... a different fly. A bloodsucker, like a horsefly or a blackfly. Or," he gestures at the dead deer, "a deerfly. It catches this host in midair... and infects it with its eggs. This second fly, all unknowing, carries and protects the eggs. And when the deerfly battens on to a host and begins to drink blood, the eggs quite suddenly hatch. And then the larvae of the warble fly can enter through the hole that it so generously has made."
You are not a squeamish child, but this is faintly unsettling. "So the warble fly... impregnates, another fly, and uses it as a suicide device to implant its young?"
"Fascinating, is it not?" The Fray Magister stands up from the deer carcass and wipes his hands. "There are demon cultists who take it as a symbol, you know. All the treachery and cruelty and horror of nature, in a shining singing flying package... well." The Magister begins to stroll away. "And now, young Zimu, I think it's time we practiced that cantrip again..."
It was a Harbinger Archon with PC levels... specifically, four levels of Oracle. It was a close personal friend of Lord Havelyn. Many years ago, the paladin did something incredibly difficult, exposing a hidden servant of evil at great personal cost. In gratitude, the forces of light sent him an angelic companion. Hazzakah the archon has been with him ever since.
* * * * *
Bref giggles and scampers forward, sharp teeth bared. "Come, witchy witch! You make Bref wait too long!"
The flames are dancing around your feet. The pain begins. You will not scream. You will not scream. You will not scream.
Sir Richard, many years younger, stands directly across from you. His hair is not grey, but thick and dark brown. His face is impassive.
The smell of pine. The smell of burning pine.
Bref grins, and something huge and dark and terrible dances behind his dark eyes. The pine trees gather around like a crowd at an execution. You try not to shrink back. Somehow you know that if you run, he'll be on you in a moment, biting. Your leg aches horribly where he bit you before.
"You wanted to know, witchy witch! You invited! Bref came! Now follow Bref!" The dead goblin turns and scuttles off into the darkness under the trees. He turns and looks over his shoulder, like a dog. "Like the warble fly! Hee hee heeee!"
You do not want to follow Bref.
You do not want to know about the warble fly. Something bad is waiting there, behind the trees, in the dark.
You follow Bref.
YOU WOULD HAVE DONE ANYTHING
You lift your face up to the blue sky. The sun, symbol of holy Mitra, shines down mercilessly as the flames devour you. Flesh blisters, blackens, cracks. You writhe in your chains but you do not scream you do not scream you do not scream
"Anything," you choke through the smoke and the pine. "Anything."
The trail turns and emerges at the edge of a cliff. The smell of pine mixes with the smell of salt; there's a sheer drop into the sea. You can't see far across the dark water... but near the bottom of the cliff, there's something in the water. A boat? A raft.
The raft is made of dead men. Captain Odenkirk, axe in hand, stalks its surface. Sometimes he raises a foot and then stomps down hard, crushing a face or an arm beneath his boot.
Bref snickers and points. "Yoo hoo! Sailor man!"
The Captain looks up. "Du?" He raises his axe and brandishes it up at you. "Jag ser dig, häxa! Jag ser dig och jag förbannar dig!" But as he raises the axe, the surface of the raft begins to heave and move. Dead men clutch at the Captain's legs. You recognize some of them -- Deaf Olaf, Sverker Clubfoot -- but there are many, many more.
The Captain curses and begins hacking and chopping at the writhing dead. Bref giggles. "Fun!" He turns away and continues scrambling along the path, which turns back and descends into the dark forest.
* * * * *
here is what you remember in the moments of your death. your agonizing death, surrounded by smoke and flames and the overwhelming scent of pine.
the three of you, running along the avenue aveline. late spring and the pale golden blossoms falling on the breeze. he always ahead, always taller and stronger. the jealousy already there, the seeds that would one day bloom into dark, luxuriant flowers of hate. but today, just the three of you, running down the avenue, gasping, laughing.
the moment she turned. the light and shadow of the aveline branches, weaving across her face. she raised her hand to shade her eyes. the fine brown hairs on her forearm, smell of hazelnut blossoms and faint clean sweat from running.
the moment you knew.
* * * * *
"Do you want to know more, witchy witch?" It's very dark beneath the trees. Snow crunches underfoot. You can't see the gobling except for a faint gleam of eyes beneath the branches up ahead. "You wanted to know. That's good! So many questions." Bref giggles. "Why don't you just ask? Hee hee hee. Just ask."
There's a silence beneath the dark pine trees. A waiting silence.
- - - -
- - - -
"Hee hee hee heeeeee! Question! She asked a question!" The dead goblin leaps and capers with delight. Bits of rotting flesh fly off him as he dances a wild jig of glee.
Then he suddenly goes still. He turns to you, dead eyes gleaming. For a long moment there's silence. Then he speaks. And when he speaks, his voice is... different. Deeper, slower, with a strange bass gurgle. He doesn't sound like Bref at all.
"She is Lady Bronwyn Havelyn.
"Beautiful, talented and kind, she was beloved by all. Most particularly by her cousins, the Havelyn brothers. Childhood friends and comrades, at adulthood both sought her hand.
"She chose Sir Thomas. The Mitran Church had to provide a dispensation for cousins to marry, which it did gladly, as the Havelyns have long been loyal servants of the Light. (Not always! But long.) To celebrate their union, a painting was commissioned, showing her sitting beneath two hazelnut trees with branches entwined. For the hazelnut, or aveline, has long been the chosen symbol of the Havelyns.
"Their love was deep and true. Alas, it was not to last. They had but three years together, and then she died giving birth to her single child.
"Twenty years later, the Commander still venerates her memory. A lamp burns before her painting, day and night, and he carries her token with him always."
Bref cocks his head. "Answer good, witchy-witch? Know more now?" His voice has gone back to being Bref... almost. "Ask another! So much more to know!"
- - - -
stands beside you in the woods.
"Surovoyu Zimu, what have you done?" Her bright green eyes almost seem to glow in the shadows beneath the pines. She turns slowly, scanning your surroundings. Her eye falls upon Bref and she inhales sharply. "What... what is that?"
Cуровую looks at Bref.
'What lays ahead of us Bref?'
'Where will this MMMF'
Irin has clapped her hand over your mouth. "Don't talk to it! Don't ask it questions!"
- - - -
You are determined to know! You throw off Irin's attempt at control with an effort that is both mental and physical.
What lays ahead of us Bref?
Bref's voice roughens and deepens again. "That's easy enough. You travel to the Dark Tower, as your puppet master instructs. Heroism at your front, treachery at your back, you seek to succeed where the Sons failed. All paths cross there. It is the axis on which this age of the world will turn."
Now -- since Irin is momentarily taken aback by your surprisingly intense resistance, you get between one and three additional questions. Pick from among these, and prioritize.
'Bref why would one brother turn against the other? Because of HER? Did one blame the other? Did her death begin the end?'
'Was the cardinal put to the torch? By his brother?'
'There was a son ... born on her death bed. Where is he now?'
* * * * *
'The Warble Fly ... why did you bring it up?'
'Where will this all lead?'
There is a pause.
'You have taken Xen ... are we all to follow?'
- - - -
'Bref why would one brother turn against the other? Because of HER? Did one blame the other? Did her death begin the end?'
"Indeed it did." Bref chuckles... a strange, deep sound with a hint of a gurgle. He doesn't sound like Bref at all when he does that.
"Samuel, the younger, was ever jealous of his taller, stronger older brother. And yet there was love there too, as well. But not enough.
"Both brothers vied for the affection of their beautiful cousin. Thomas, the older, won. Was it simply because he was taller, more handsome, the heir? Or did lovely Bronwyn somehow sense the worm that gnawed at young Samuel's heart? Whatever the reason, she chose as she chose.
"Did one blame the other? Of course. Of course. Samuel smiled... but inwardly he grieved and raged and hated.
"Now, both brothers were set upon traditional careers. The older rose quickly in the ranks of the Army. The younger, clever and consumed by jealousy, rose even faster through the ranks of the Church.
"Studious Samuel! A bookish boy, very unlike his tall, athletic brother. He researched and he read, turning to dry tomes in a hopeless attempt to forget his jealous misery and hate. And one day, in the dusty and disintegrating pages of a long-lost manuscript, he discovered something amazing: the Havelyns had not always been Mitrans. Long, long ago they had been loyal servants of Asmodeus! They converted to the new faith, yes. But a hint remained in their coat of arms: a hand holding a hazelnut branch, pushing towards the sun through a thicket of bloody thorns. For their conversion, centuries past, had been bloody and difficult indeed.
"The family had tried its best to erase that dark history. But Hell never forgets! And in that dry and crumbling tome, Samuel Havelyn read of the ancient pact that his family had made, so very long ago. A pact that enabled a scion of the Havelyns to pledge and to bind his soul in return for dark and terrible power. A pact that had been forgotten, but never broken.
"And so Samuel Havelyn turned away from the light of the sun and towards the flame that burns in darkness. Though outwardly still a servant of bright Mitra -- brilliant and talented, the kingdom's youngest Bishop -- in fact he now bowed to Hell.
"So: did her death begin the end? No. You could say rather that it ended the end. By the time she died, Samuel had turned altogether to the dark. But her death caused him great grief and pain nonetheless, for he still loved her. And in his grief, he became careless. And was discovered."
Bref's voice suddenly changes, as if he is quoting someone else. "Many years ago, the paladin did something incredibly difficult, exposing a hidden servant of evil at great personal cost. Just so! It was Thomas who brought his own brother to justice, in the end. Hard it was for him, for he still loved his brother. Like forcing his own hand through thorns, you might say. But he did it. And in gratitude, the forces of light sent him an angelic companion. So that the man who had lost wife and brother need not be alone, altogether alone. So kind! Virtue rewarded eh? A happy ending, heh heh heh?" The slobbery, gurgly note in Bref's voice has become very strong. He twitches and jerks, his dead eyes spinning randomly.
"You fool," says Irin quietly beside you. "That's no goblin."
"STOP!" Irin is doing something to stop you from asking more questions. In this realm, it comes across as a physical attack swift uppercut to your jaw.
- - - -
"That will be difficult. She can already use it to watch you freely. The day will come when she can use it to strike at you. Certain protective spells can ward you, but they are either temporary and fleeting, or fixed in space, requiring you to remain in a small area.
"An alternate method would be to pledge yourself to some greater power, and so gain its protection --"
"Oh, that is enough." Irin glares at Bref. "Enough. No more games." She raises one hand, palm outstretched. "Show yourself!"
- - - -
"Not scrying," says Irin grimly, "and not divinations."
Bref grins at her... and starts to rise. He rises up off the ground into the air.
You can see now that Bref is hollow. There's a hole in his back. Something -- an enormous limb, bigger than a tree trunk -- is inserted into the hole. It's a hand, an arm. It's wearing Bref like a glove.
With a sibilant rushing hiss, the trees part like a crowd. Above them, a huge full moon stares down out of a black and starless sky. The moon grins at you. It grins and becomes a face.
The face is huge, immense. It is the face of a deformed beast-thing, combining the most loathsome qualities of ape and pig. Broken tusks jut from a slobbering muzzle. Below it, you can barely glimpse the outline of a vast, obese body, fold upon fold of fat, covered with oozing sores. A smell comes to you, deep and foul, like ages of ancient garbage mixed with the musk of a filthy animal, all overlain with the sharp reek of vomit.
The thing looks down at the two of you, grinning. You might think it just a monster, a ravening beast... except for the eyes. The eyes are bright and alert, and dancing with hideous intelligence. It sees you deeply, and it knows.
It raises its arm, with the twitching Bref-puppet still on it. Bref grins down at you, and giggles. His arms flap and wave wildly. "Hellooooo, witchy witch! Hee hee hee!"
Irin speaks, and her voice drips with loathing.
- - - -
Not this time. Not yet.
The thing grins, muzzle full of blunt yellow teeth. "Hello, Lady. A pleasure to make your acquaintance." Its breath washes over you, making you gag a little.
"And not just any nalfeshnee." Irin is tense, as if ready to fight or run. "One of the Seers, if I don't miss my guess."
"Was that a question?" The thing's voice is a deep basso with a gurgle in it. "Ha ha! Just joking. I've already had plenty of questions tonight from your little friend there. But, yes." It bobs its head, in grotesque courtesy. "I have that honor. And before we do the silly business with the names, you can call me... Doctor Moon."
"I'm not calling you anything, spawn of the Abyss." Irin says, tight lipped. "We're leaving this place. Zimu, take my hand." She reaches out to you --
"Ahem." Doctor Moon clears his throat -- and around him, the night sky ripples and seems to boil. Something dances around his figure like an aurora, purple and red streaks of twisting light. Looking at it hurts your eyes. "Miss Zimu and I have not finished our conversation yet. Don't be rude."
- - - -
Irin forcefully grabs your hand, and pulls.
Doctor Moon lunges after you. He reaches out with the hand that has the Bref-puppet on it. Bref grabs your arm. "No, witchy witch! Stay with Bref!" For a moment, there's a desperate, frantic tug of war --
-- and then you're tumbling backwards and down
-- and Doctor Moon is calling after you, "We'll meet again, little witch! Ho ho ho!"
-- and you are sitting up bolt upright on the stone floor at the bottom of the stairs to the Keep of Balentyne.