Much has happened since I last wrote. We lost a man. Or at least, I believe we may have. A kind old soul, gentle and full of charm. He reminded me in some ways of my father — or perhaps the man he could have been, were he not murdered by trolls those many long years ago outside of Heldren.
Heldren. I can barely remember what the faces of my neighbors looked like. My memory blurs the longer I stay in this place, being moved by magicks outside of my grasp. I grow in strength and capital, but what will I be, should I survive this ordeal? More. More than I was — but is that a good thing?
We left our small encampment after the Adlet attack, and traversed for two days. The ice road we had been on began winding upwards toward the mountainous crests surrounding Artrosa. The first night we slept inside a rocky alcove, and apparently large, furred beasts crossed our path while we slept, but I did not need to be roused. They passed us without event — mainly due to our young upstart’s (Bart) quick thinking, or more to the point, quick fingers. Upon the second day, after taking a sharp turn along the mountainside, we saw a dragon. A huge, majestic, white dragon — adult in age, and hunting. I remember the iron taste of fear in my mouth as we all ducked behind the rocky outcropping and whispered amongst ourselves about our best course of action. Surely, the dragon could find us if he was aware of our presence? This meant he likely did not know of our coming — and this left us a chance to flee, ambush, or press on (with great haste, of course). We chose the latter of these options, and began hoofing our way across this dragon’s possible line of sight once it seemed his attentions had waned.
Then, mere minutes after escaping the dragon, 9 adlets, likely more of the same clan that our first adversary belonged to, descended from the cliffs above us and I kid you not cast at us little more than a wayward glance as they walked through the sky. Above us, floating, in formation, they walked upon the air toward the direction we last saw the wyrm. Upon the hour, the roaring of the dragon from far off was heard. There was a battle of wolf-men and a dragon, one that we all wanted nothing to do with
- and rightly so, such beasts not long ago were mere fairy tales to me — and we winced at the sonorous howlings that echoed off the trees, and the rocks, and the sky itself. The adlets returned in our direction some time later, lesser in number, and lesser in strength. I debated with some amongst ourselves if we should take the opportunity and kill them now, but the way of Torag is not always one of war — and my party was there to remind me of this.
We had reached Artrosa.
It was a sight to behold — three images of women, varying in age. The Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone all stood, mile-high, above us, the winds buffeting the small patches of trees dotting the mountainous landscape. We had no idea what was next.
The Maiden was the first we examined thoroughly – the feet of all three statues seemed mundane, carved of old stone that was shaped with an artificer’s touch — ancient magicks, most likely.
Val, our Irriseni witch-companion, noted that some of his powers allowed him a limited flight — unnatural, of course, but still useful. He deigned he could reach the top, with some effort, and would report back down with his findings within a half hour.
He was just a speck in the sky when we heard the crackle of lightning, and looked to each other with worry on our faces. If he had met some doom up that way, we had to meet it too – but we would meet it with muscle, and fire, and bolt.
I pulled out the wand I had held for months now — elm, the size of a woman’s forearm, with thick lines like webbing along it’s entire shaft — and loosed it’s magic upon my party. Within moments, we were scaling Artrosa like spiders on a web — upward, to our witch, our companion, and our future.
Hurstwic had declined the use of my wand of spider climbing — assuring us that he had a way up himself. I furrowed my brow at the idea of another one of us changing the group’s plan just to be different — but I had to oblige him. Did I mention he was a bit hard-headed? Yes, like my father.
Lo and behold, the old man walked on air — alike to the Adlet we had fought days before on the pass. He kept in time with us somehow, our arms and legs working up the statue’s verticals, while he strode on steps made of air afore us.
It wasn’t long before we reached the Maiden’s midsection, and saw lights twinkling — an omen of good tiding, we thought. Assuredly!
Then the crackle of lightning, and Hurstwic was on his knees, mid air. Yelling at us to go ahead, waving his arms, he sought heroism for heroism’s sake — and Bart and I obliged him. We climbed around the monument in minutes, along the maiden’s lower back, away from the wisps. Our climb after that was eventful, and Hurstwic did not join us. I feel, somehow, that he wanted things that way — for him to sacrifice his life in pursuit of our freedom truly must have been a wish of his deity, Milani — goddess of rebels, and liberators. We could very well leave the Maiden in some day’s time, through a secret passageway, and find him sitting next to a campsite, smiling, offering us his Hasenpfeffer stew with a wry wink. Stranger things have happened. Better things are due us…
But somehow I think not.
When we reached the precipice of the Maiden, the top of her head — we were greeted by a landing filled with a lush garden — and Val Urvalane himself appeared out of a bramble of dirt, leaves, branches, and discarded bones, greeting us in his typical snide manner. He was injured by the wisps — which did not spell well for our elder compatriot. We barely had time to gather ourselves before a demon made of leaves and treebark made her self seen and demanded sacrifice.
Val laughed, looked at us, and brazenly talked down to the thing – chiding it that if this demon-thing served Baba Yaga then it too should serve us — “Are we not Baba Yaga’s servants also?” — he said, his thick Irriseni accent draping the question in high-handedness.
It did not agree.
So Val, upstart witch of ice and winter, summoned a pony from some long-forgotten astral pocket. He summoned a pony out of mid-air — and within moments, the tree beast had wrapped it in root and stem, and was squeezing it’s life out — horse blood peppering the ground as the pony gave it’s life for us.
It was appeased, and we ventured forth. Val sent a raven he had hiding in his pocket downward into the mouth of the cave yawning in the front of us — inside was an Ettin.
A two headed, slavering idiot of a thing, with some training in witch magicks, as Val surmised. This time we did not pass unmolested — but we did pass. I threw off it’s paltry enchantments of protection, and Errol and myself smote it with our weapons of blue-steel adamantine.
We ventured downward into the Maiden’s innards, through murals of creatures, women, and fey-things without shapes. After some time, there was sweet music. Where from? In this twisting darkness, where could such sweet sounds emanate?
Apparently a room with a pool of muck and moss, and it’s fey guardian, winged and intimidating — hovering there, playing on his pan pipes.
Errol Cask was enthralled, and stepped forward into the room before we even had known what was happening. In a matter of moments, a huge tentacled thing made of swamp-stuff arose from the pool in the middle of the room, and wrapped it’s slimy tendrils around Errol’s body. The pan-flute-playing-fey beckoned him forward, and Errol had no choice. The will of a man is like armor, and the music the fey played penetrated Errol’s. Then the tendrils did. A tendriculos
- a thing I had heard of in tavern-side horror stories, but did not recognize until after we had felled it.
It ate Errol whole, and he survived, paralyzed, and covered in slime. When we finally killed the thing — my warhammer finding a soft spot near the top of it’s ‘head’ (if such a thing has a head, I am not sure, but it definitely has a mouth), ending it’s years-long slumber. The fey was soon also brought low, but alive…
We needed it’s information. So despite the protestations of my nobler side, we set to work torturing the fey-thing — in an attempt to garner all it knows about this part of Artrosa. First a finger, then both kneecaps, and then another finger. Blade and hammer were brought heavy upon it’s limbs. It was not, in the end, helpful — and although when I ended it’s life it felt like a mercy, the deed was done and I had felt sullied just a bit more by the witch-magicks weaved here.
What a horrible business, sometimes, this adventuring is. But to make iron into steel, you must temper it through fire. Whatever forge I have found myself in though, burns cold… and there are times I feel brittle, and about to snap. Yet perhaps there are metals greater than steel, as assuredly there are men greater than me. Perhaps this frostforged wasteland will temper me into something yet — Torag’s will guide me through.
~ Rados Ellart