Reign of Winter

Nobel's Vision Quest
A Downtime Tale

The Preparation:
After a brief rest on the first day, Nobel and Lucky silently make their way to the meditation chamber and close the door. “It is time for deep reflection”, Nobel indicates to Lucky with but a look. Whether Lucky actually understands his master is debatable, but he takes a position on his haunches opposite Nobel who has taken the lotus position. The two stare into each others eyes as they had done each morning at sunrise during their time together since Lucky came to him at that hunting lodge outside of Heldren. Lucky came along at the right time and these private moments together have helped keep Nobel anchored along their tumultuous journey.

However, this was not going to be a their typical meditation. Nobel intended not to anchor himself but rather to destroy himself and in the wreckage construct something new. He was going to peel away the layers and expose the true self before reconstructing himself as a new being.

Nobel pulled from his pack various totem objects he had gathered along the way to the dancing hut. Three daggers (silver, ice, and masterwork) with tips pointed in toward each other would form the base, representing his concept of self when he started his journey, one being in three separate parts (fey, magic, and human). Around the daggers he placed a cord he fashioned from braiding portions of the cloaks he had collected from Baba Yaga’s riders, representing three separate things that were really one (dawn, dusk, and midnight consisting of one day). In the center, touching the knife tips, he placed the acorn he received from his vision outside the temple of Desna. This was to to represent the mystery that was the inner self, a thing of infinite potential waiting to be actualized. And by doing this he formed a wheel with three spokes with all possibilities revolving around the true self at its core. He completed the arrangement by placing the dolls taken from the Pale Tower, Scratch and Shiver, on either side of him such that between Nobel, Lucky, and the dolls they would represent the four cardinal directions, something commonly done in the witching rituals of his mentor Arana Snakeroot. Finally he took the three knotted cord from his neck (the holy symbol of Megdh he had found in the blacktar satyr camp when he and Fenn were children, a symbol of friendship and faith) and the witches sickle still crusted with her blood from when he removed her head (a symbol of The Green Mother, a symbol of death and deception) and placed one before each of the dolls to invoke their presence.

Nobel then used his newly given power from Baba Yaga to consecrate the room and his alter. He and Lucky then focused on one another, watching each others breath, slowing down their heart rates and respirations so as almost to appear dead or like statuary if anyone were looking on. They slipped into a deep meditation into which they would remain for three days as the visions overtook them.

The Vision:
Nobel once again finds himself on an isolated forest path, but this time it appears to be set along a rock hillside. As he looks at the path behind him, he can see how far he has traveled from the forest and valley below. He can only guess it would have taken him days if not longer to get this far from the valley, but time is hard to track in this place. Ahead, he sees the dread spire of an impossibly tall mountain peak looming, clouds breaking against its sides, its peak obscured from view. The sun is setting and the first stars of twilight are beginning to show. Dew is starting to condense on the foliage and a light breeze is the only sound.

The silence is broken by the sound of rustling branches and the hoot of an owl. Nobel looks up to see a three headed owl the size of a wolf sitting on a low branch along the trail ahead. Only when Lucky fearfully jumps into his arms does Nobel even realize that Lucky had been with him the entire time. The dire owl fixes its gaze on Nobel with one head while another head looks far ahead and the last is turned all the way around to look behind.

“What do you expect to find this way?” says the owl.
“I’m looking for answers” replies Nobel.
“Then why the path? Why not climb the trees or fly to the summit? Why not dig in the dirt? Knowledge can be found in many ways. The path is but one.”
Confused, Nobel responds “I am but a man. I have no claws to dig, wings to fly, or strength to climb. The path is what I know.”
The dire owl hoots in a way that sounds like laughter. “Then you know nothing at all. No wonder you are here, he-who-is-man-yet-is-not-man.” It hoots again.

“What does that mean? I have heard this before and I have felt it to be true, but what does it substantiate?” Nobel demands.
The owl keeps its middle head fixed on Nobel but now cocks it 30 degrees to the right. “Why do you protest so? Does the spider lose sleep over why it has 8 limbs rather than 4? Does the tiger sulk about having sharp claws rather than the hands of a gorilla?”
“Of course not”, replies Nobel. “Those are their natural features and necessary for their survival.”
“And the same is true for you.”
“No, I have a curse. A darkness within me that I cannot fully control!”

The owl alights from the branch and knocks Nobel to the ground. His talons come to rest on Nobel’s legs pinning him in place. It screeches, “You are what you are and all serves its function! Look to the sky. What do you see?”

Night has now descended and the stars and moon are out in full. The beauty of this strange night sky is breathtaking. “I see the light of the moon and the stars. I see the darkness between them”, Nobel weeps with awe and fear.
The owl leans closer to Nobel’s neck. “You see as separate that which is one. You fail to see the summation. Light held in place and given order by its tether to the darkness. Mistake not the tapestry for its threads.”

At this revelation, Nobel’s eyes grew large as if he was seeing for the first time. The dire owl steps off of Nobel and reaches into the night air itself with its beak. From the darkness around them, it rips out what appears to be an ebon cloth as black as the night itself. The other two heads then move to pluck a single feather from each of its wings. It sets the items before Nobel. “For the journey ahead, princeling.” Then it fades into the darkness.

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The New Pact
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

Revelations abound inside the dancing hut. My mind is still reeling as I attempt to process what transpired within.

Having cleared our way to the hut at last, the culmination of the journey we began when we accepted the Black Rider’s quest, we thought it might finally be over. The rider had asked us to free the hut and in doing so Baba Yaga herself. We agreed in order to end the reign of winter on Golarion. Fenn and I approached the hut cautiously. As we did, it seemed to relax and come to rest on the ground. While we did this, Selene inspected the chains that kept it bound, and when she touched one they disintegrated. The hut was free and our quest complete, but the hut remained. I had expected the dancing hut would immediately vanish to places unknown to retrieve its master, but instead it just sat there enticing us to enter.

The dimensions inside were much larger than could have been possible given the size of the exterior. My paranoia swelled and I had a difficult time keeping my hauntlings in check as we slowy explored its interior. Inside the central room was a bubbling cauldron and the adjoining room contained a voluminous library. Fenn lost himself and all reason in the hut’s dusty tomes, pouring over page after page of long forgotten knowledge in ancient and alien languages. Selene and Taryn guarded the front door while I disabled a warding glyph into a small hallway connecting to the huts central room. It is possible that I was mistaken and that rather than disable the glyph, I was simply allowed to bypass it using the Black Rider’s gift.

The hallway led to a strange chamber consisting of a magically projected map with 5 thrones encircling it. My entering seemed to awaken the chamber’s guardian, a hulking mass of bones and sinew. I fled the room and returned with Selene and Taryn, while Fenn remained entranced by manuscripts. Things rapidly turned ugly as Selene found herself contained within a bone cage from which neither she nor I could seem to free her. Taryn came at the golem like a whirlwind, which in turn directed all its attention at her. All I could manage was to use the last of my magical reserves to reduce my colleagues wounds and keep them in the fight. There was blood and bone fragments going every direction as Taryn and the golem slammed into each other again and again.

Finally, Fenn arrived and, in his typical and annoyingly casual way, pointed out that we were going about it all wrong. He lobbed a potion at the creature which appeared to handicap it significantly and then directed me to use my healing wands positive energy on it. With this knowledge, we turned the fight around, freed Selene, and put down the abomination. I hate it when Fenn is right, and I hate it even more so that he usually is.

The next 10 minutes or so I am somewhat unclear on and what I scribe here is what was told to me by Fenn afterward. A bizarre beaked and chicken legged woman appeared in one of the thrones. I was unable to understand her words as I could not read her lips, or rather beak. Her names was Zorka and she was some kind of servant of Baba Yaga’s. She instructed my colleagues on how to activate the hut to teleport. The problem was that if we activated the hut by throwing the Black Rider’s keys into the cauldron, we would have to go with the hut. Once again we would be stepping across the threshold to unknown places.

Additionally, Zorka indicated that only one of us was human, when there should have been three humans. It’s fair to discount myself as I have always known I was something other, but that leaves Selene and Taryn both of which seem pretty damn human. If one of them is not human, what does that even mean? Taryn has just joined our crew and we know so little about her. If she is hiding something from us, what would that mean? Is she a winter wolf agent of Whitethrone? I trust her far less than Selene who has been with us since the start. However, even my trust in noble Selene has begun to waver.

Even more interestingly, when I rested in one of the five thrones to catch my breath while Fenn sorted the mess out, Zorka indicated under her breath how fitting that was of me. Though I am from the Black line of mages, a line that had now dwindled to myself alone, my family was not really nobility. They were the guardians of the Taldan frontier town of Deep Green since its founding.

Fenn cast the keys into the cauldron and a vapor began to spew forth from the cauldron and fill the hut. When we awoke, we were sitting in four of the thrones and face-to-wrinkled face with Baba Yaga herself. Well, not really her bodily face but more of a mental projection. She had somehow become trapped and requested our assistance in freeing her. To do this she would grant us each an aspect of her immense power and make us her new Riders. In return, she promised on her power to release us when our task was done and to wreak no more havoc on Golarion.

Fenn asked no further questions and heartily accepted. The promise of power seems to enthrall him every time. I consented when Baba Yaga revealed that she could help me understand my nature. Taryn took the mantle for reasons that are her own. Selene continues to confound me. She is the most virtuous of us, yet her behavior is unexpected to say the least since our encounter with the haunted temple of Desna. Where before she was dogmatic and stubborn, now she acquiesces to become bound to an evil witch with nary a question asked. When I questioned her, she rationalized it by saying we couldn’t stay in Whitethrone any longer and there was no other option. Maybe this is true or perhaps she simply believes it is. However, one of our female companions is not human according to Zorka, and Selene has begun to draw suspicion. She can see in the dark, a trait I had previously brushed off as some boon from Sarenrae, but I may need to reconsider this.

Curse these witches and their devil tongues! Our bond is all that has kept us alive through this, and now that too is in jeopardy. Mayhap, this is how Baba Yaga tightens her grip on us by loosening the ties between us. What have we done?

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First World Forest of Whitethrone
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

It was not one of my better days. Upon seeing the forest in the center of Whitethrone, I initially felt drawn to it. In hindsight, that may have been my first warning that it was going to be trouble.

After realizing we were not going to be able to pass the reality-bending barrier around the hut, we came across one of the winter guard. Through quick wit, we were able to pose as stilyagi and sent her on her way without conflict.

Later, I become ensorceled by 3 beautiful redheaded fey creatures which ended without a fight when Fenn magically paralyzed me and Taryn drug me away. Fenn sacrificed a great deal of his arcane reserves in order to do this, so I know he didn’t do this lightly. Without this intervention I would have almost certainly become enslaved. Selene commands my respect as always. Though she stood fast to protect me, she had the strength not to draw her blade. Sometimes the hardest battle is against your own emotions, but today she won, as did we all because of it.

We took down the 3 dawn pipers trying to bend reality and abduct Baba Yaga’s hut. I spent much of that time blinded, inside a sphere of water, or both. Taryn proved why Solveigg had so much faith in her as to send her with us. While I floundered around, she took down one dawn piper with an arrow through the cheek. I thwarted one with magical silence but other than that Taryn and Fenn did most of the heavy lifting.

At last we came to the hut itself. Outside its gate hung the heads of the red rider and pale rider. That meant all that remained of Baba Yaga’s outriders was our reluctant trio. Guarding the hut was the witch master of the Pale Tower and a frost golem. Once again Fenn and Taryn proved the heroes of the day. Though Taryn and Selene initially struggled to breach the witch’s potent defenses, Taryn was able to slip a blade into her ribs. Fenn finished the job with a fiery blast and then downed her with a force missile as she attempted to flee. I summoned an air elemental to aid Selene and Taryn against the golem, before taking the witch’s sickle and removing her head in line with what appears to be these barbarians’ custom.

I hadn’t noted it at the time, but as I write this a strange relationship between these events develops. The sickle, the red headed fey seducers, the redheaded dawn pipers, the primeval First World forest. I had a dream shortly before arriving in Whitethrone in which I was told I had made a bargain with The Green Mother, though the terms of this deal were not known to me. She is of the Eldest, a First World goddess of trickery through seduction. Her sacred color is red. Her weapon is the sickle. Is this coincidence or a sign of her designs at play?

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Clock Tower Assault
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

With our preparations made and possibly a final meal in our bellies, we decided to initiate the clock tower assault by the cover of night. Before we left, Solveigg tasked us with one more mission. A “friend” of hers, an opera singer from a foreign nation named Bella, had been imprisoned by Logrivich in the clock tower. This explained why she needed us for the task rather than sending her own forces. Though she stated it was because Logrivich was too powerful, it seemed more likely that it was too personal.

We carefully made our way to Logrivich’s clock tower by back alleys and side streets. The city was quiet. I obscured our approach to the tower base and Fenn used a wand to give us the ability to climb the tower exterior like spiders. Thus we were able to avoid the ice trolls stationed within the tower. Though I have become accustomed to silence, I frequently forget about this detail for others. I erred by not casting our party in magical silence, and when we approached the tower summit Logrivich was eagerly waiting, having no doubt heard the clanking of Selene’s armor. Had we been able to catch the wyrm asleep on his horde, it would have gone much more smoothly.

As it was, Fenn had an excellent grasp of Logrivich’s weakness to fire – an area in which Fenn excels – and made short work of him, while Selene protected us from the creature. Fenn then set about throwing much of the dragon’s horde out into the street in order to accelerate the chaos that was about to ensue in the streets. This would help provide cover for our escape.

Unfortunately, Bella was not in Logrivich’s chamber. We were about to work our way down the tower when I realized we could simply extradite her through the exterior window of the tower. We scurried down the side of the tower as Fenn’s magical servant continued to rain coins from the dragon’s horde down around us. We found Bella’s window, broke it in magical silence, and Taryn, our new ally, slid through the window frame and pulled Bella to freedom.

Once safely away from the clock tower, we fired the signal flare to begin the rebel assault. Using the distraction, we headed back toward the bath house where we parted ways with Bella before entering the strange forest surrounding Baba Yaga’s hut.

The forest itself was so dense it essentially was fortress. The trees looked to be alien to Golarion, yet at the same time felt oddly familiar and welcoming to me. This feeling did not last long once I could feel inhuman eyes looking at me from the shadows.

Fenn, Selene, and Taryn put down some ice trolls guarding the entrance to the forest path. Taryn really showed her combat prowess by charging into the melee alongside Selene and then tumbling into a flanking position. For such a bruiser, I was not expecting such grace.

As always, it just got stranger from there. The hut was not only shackled within the forest but was trapped inside an energy bubble that, according to my and Fenn’s estimation, was actually trying to forcefully remove the hut from this plane of existence. Unable to cross the barrier, we set about to eliminate the dawn pipers, fey creatures intent on taking the hut for themselves. Only by stopping their ritual could we remove the barrier.

So the battle of whitethrone forest began, while the battle for whitethrone itself was being waged amidst the city streets.

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How to Kill a White Dragon
Notes scribbled down by Fenn Malus in preparation for the Clocktower Assault

Limiting movement/flight is key
Tanglefoot bag (50 gp, restrict movement, possibly flight and spell casting for 12-48 seconds)
Tangleburn bag (150 gp, as tanglefoot bag plus burning)
Net (20 gp, same as tanglefoot bag but an exotic weapon means it’s harder to use effectively)
Darkness (won’t work on dragons)
Obscuring Mist (may force it to land in order to attack but unpredictable)

Disabling the beast
Ray of enfeeblement (always a crowd pleaser)
Bestow curse (requires a touch to deliver, could be delivered by Lucky stealthily but at great risk to the familiar)
Prayer + Bane (lower resistance to spells and diminished attack/damage ability)

Injuring the beast
Vulnerable to fire, immune to cold (Fenn should be full blasting)
Constant damage effects (burning will help prevent spellcasting via disrupting concentration)
Ranged combat is primary if it cannot be grounded (spell casting, archery, etc.)
Scroll of greater magic weapon (375 gp, improvement to 50 munitions attack accuracy and damage)
Wand of scorching ray (good ranged attack but costly item to acquire)
Readied actions (may help Selene and other melee fighters get a hit in when it flys by to attack, but generally not advised if other options are available)

Staying alive
Resistance to energy
Protection from energy
Negotiation (dragons are intelligent so could be reasoned with or bribed with shiny things, curious mirror?)
Wand of Spider Climb (could be used to scale the tower and avoid the guards inside, possibly ambushing Logrivich)

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Whitethrone: One More Thing to Hate About Irresen
An excerpt from the Journal of Nobel Black

Just when you start to think this frozen hell can’t suck any worse, here comes Whitethrone.
Top 5 things to hate about Whitethrone
1) Secret police. The Jadwiga are so paranoid that they have set up the populace to spy on itself.
2) Jadwiga. The descendants of Baba Yaga. Spoiled children who set about treating people like toys until they are broken.
3) Stilyagi. Roving gangs of jadwiga children who are so bored with the life in Irresen that they pretend to be someone from somewhere else. At least this affords us some cover as we pose as stilyagi in order to move about the city. I have been cast as the Jadwiga while Fenn and Selene will play my courtesans from Taldor.
4) Scrying mirrors. 24 hour surveillance through any mirror. We will need be careful about what may be seeing us, but now that Fenn has learned this trick he may be able to use it to our own advantage.
5) The winter guard. Ice trolls, frost giants, and winter wolves loyal to the the current ruler Elvanna. Must avoid at all cost as a straight up fight will get us killed in this town.

Thanks to Rengeirr we made our way into the city via a smugglers passage posing as fishmongers. We had a brief confrontation with an goblin but he backed down after I put a little of my darker side on display. We quickly made our way to meet with the Heralds of Summers Return and their leader, a cleric named Solveigg. She had a secret hideaway amidst a small forest growing within the cities hot springs. This was a welcome reprieve and lifted my spirits greatly. To able to walk among lush greenery again and taste fresh fruit was something I would not have hoped for in this dreary place. We toasted to our fallen friend, Nesteruk, and discussed the current situation in Whitethrone.

Elvanna, not wanting to give up her throne to another, shackled Baba Yaga’s dancing hut in the marketplace near the center of Whitethrone. In response, the hut seems to be protecting itself by somehow producing an ever expanding forest around it. This has left Elvanna and her forces vexed as they have to continually chop down this foliage to keep it from overcoming the city. With her Winter Guard forces somewhat preoccupied with this situation, she has somehow negotiated with a white dragon, Logrivich, to help prevent insurrection. Solveigg has hatched a plan flr open rebellion but first needs Logrivich dealt with.

In the face of all this, I finally openly questioned our intentions. Why were we helping Baba Yaga? We could all agree she is not to be considered an ally, so why not leave her wherever she is? Its possible that without her hut she can never return to Gollarion. If her daughters could be dealt with, that may mean the end of the White Witches and freedom for the Ulfen people of the north. I suggested this and pointed out that the only reason I could think of to look for Baba Yaga was that we had made a promise in blood to her Black Rider. Then it all became crystal clear.

Solveigg, now hearing about our encounter with the Black Rider, was able to detect a powerful magic that had been placed on us and that would likely compel us to aid Baba Yaga. That’s why we seemed to have trouble even questioning our purpose as our motivations had been shackled like the dancing hut. It wasn’t until we found ourselves in the sanctuary of a forest like back home in the Deep Green that I was able to get my head clear enough to verbalize my concerns. Whom am I to trust if I cannot even trust my own thoughts?

We now face the threat of Logrivich and the Winter Guard in order to free that which should not be freed. Fenn has set about acquiring supplies and developing a strategy with Solveigg, who has lent us the aid of one of her finest warriors. Selene prays for guidance from Sarenrae. Before I go to what may be my death, I may take a few days to contemplate as well. I have never been to a city this large. Perhaps there are resources to help me unravel or understand the nature of my curse, the meaning of my dreams, or the compulsion placed upon us by the Black Rider. Selene may even be able to find some information that might help her understand her own unusual origin. Perhaps some time amongst the plight of the people of Whitethrone will give me courage to do what must be done.

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The Day The Half-Orc Died

A short, short time ago
I can still remember how battle used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be dead in a short while

But Whitethrone made me shiver
With every sword blow I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
He couldn’t take one more step

I can’t remember if I cried
When I saw his flesh torn wide
But something touched me deep inside
The day the half-orc died

So bye, bye, Mr. Split Them Wide
Heart so heavy I head straight to bartown
To drink some whiskey ‘n rye
Singin’ this day a true hero died
This day a true hero died

He didn’t write the book of love
And he had no faith in God above
In his way and you’d get a shove
’Cause he believed that action spoke
Slit their throat and watch them choke
And he can you teach you how to die real slow?

Well, I know that you’re in awe of him
’Cause he could serve up death so grim
Could kick a man out of his shoes
Those he fought would surely lose

He was a lonely quiet broncin’ buck
The personality of a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the Half-orc died

I started singing bye, bye, Mr. Split Them Wide
Heart so heavy I head straight to Bartown
To drink some whiskey ‘n rye
Singin’ this day a true hero died
This day a true hero died…

R.I.P. Nesteruk

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Musings and Motivations
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

Something has begun to disturb me. In the hectic scramble to uncover the source of the winter onslaught, we have found ourselves trapped in Irresen. Maybe not quite trapped but exiled, nevertheless, with no simple means of return home. We crossed Irresen’s border via magic so I am unsure if a physical crossing is even possible. If it was, why wouldn’t these people have left long ago? I may have to bring this up with Nadya.

It’s something else that’s bothering me. My concern: We continue to push on into the very heart of very hostile and foreign land, and I have yet to stop and ask myself the most fundamental question; why should I continue?

I am Taldan. I wanted to close the portal to Irresen for the benefit of my people and my home. If the rest of Golarion has been covered in ice, if the devilworshippers of Cheliax and the piraveteers of the Shackles are frostbitten, that’s on them. We found a way and they can as well. I could rationalize it in that stopping Irresenian aggression in other places keeps my home safe too, but why do I even care about that? Though the Deep Green is home, it has also been a place of misery for me and my family. Fenn and Selene are orphans and never even had homes, so what purpose do they have to fight these surmounting obstacles? Selene finds firmament in her faith and the worship of Saranrae through her deeds, but Fenn has no such foundation. Does he continue for me, or I for him, or have we become so screwed up that we no longer know why we move on, like 2 amnestic vagabonds.

I am indebted. Arana Snakeroot, took me in and taught me the means to begin controlling my curse. In many ways that makes me duty bound to her. When she felt something amiss with the northern witches, she dispatched me to investigate. However, the mandate was to investigate, not specifically to intervene. As far as I am concerned, that duty is complete. We know that the Queen of the Witches is expanding her power base to try and rival Baba Yaga. Furthermore, my experience with witches has left me suspicous of Snakeroot, herself a witch. I question how much debt is owed in our relationship, and to whom.

I am ignorant. There are many things I do not understand. My dreams haunt me with clues but no answers. Baba Yaga is possibly immortal and incredibly powerful. She may have answers. However, she is she mother of witches and has herself enslaved the entire nation of Irresen. Is it wise to try and aid such a being? Could her answers even be trusted? Some things may be best left unanswered and some missing things best left lost.

More concerning than the answer to the question of “why continue” is why haven’t we yet stopped to ask these questions at all? We move forward as if we have little regard for our lives. It’s as if I have some kind of mental block that prevents any of us from dwelling on the subject, some invisible force that just moves us inexplicably and unavoidably toward Baba Yaga. Now that I have started to ask the questions, it’s as if someone has turned on the lights for the first time and I can see the gossamer threads of fate that bind us. I am becoming uneasy. Maybe it was just Nesteruk’s passing, but I feel a heavy burden like that of a yoked ox. In this land of witchcraft, maybe we are all cursed. I pray to Magdh and the Eldest for guidance. I pray to Irori and Nethys, mortals who once shuffled off the chains of mortality to become more, in order that my companions and I may be free of our own burdens. I pray for us all, for if we can’t even ask ourselves why, then what hope is there for any of us?

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Nesteruk's End
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

None of us really knew what was going on with Nesteruk or how bad things had become. He had not been the same since the Pale Tower. We knew he had been cursed but we failed to recognize the extent to which it was eating away at him. Only too late did we realize.

The day we finally began to approach the outskirts of civilization again after traveling across the wintery void for a week, we came to a bridge upon which several trolls were making trouble. They wanted live meat to eat and didn’t go for Fenn’s and my ruse to magically animate the remaining quarter of stag still in our possession. You wouldn’t have known Nesteruk was ill by the way in which he eviscerated one of the trolls before any of us could blink. Fenn went to work setting fire to our foes to keep them from regenerating (but honestly he would have set fire to them anyway), while Selene grappled with the leader. Before it could hurl her over the edge of the bridge, I knocked both the troll and Selene to the ground with an ice spear sprung up from the ground beneath them. Nesteruk and Fenn then finished the fight.

Feeling emboldened, we made our way to a nearby fishing village in order to find Nadya’s husband’s uncle, a man who could possibly get us into Whitethrone. As is our luck, he had already been arrested by local authorities on some trumped up charges. We avoided a group of other local constables and went straight to the aptly designated guard house.

We made several attempts to gain access to the building including Nesteruk slamming himself into the barred door several times and a failed ploy in which Fenn tried to convince them we were the returning constables (as he is the only one who knows the local Skald tongue) while I hid us in a shroud of mist. When diplomacy and deceit failed, Nesteruk simply cut the door down with his great axe.

What ensued was a complete tactical blunder that I shall regret for the rest of my days. The building itself was not very large and its main chamber was nearly filled by the voluminous forms of the 2 ogres posted there. We had fought in close quarters before but the problem became twofold: 1) The ogres presence left little means to enter or maneuver within the room, and 2) the mist poured into the building once the door was broken and obscured the occupants. This caused Fenn and I to be stuck outside the dwelling when Nesteruk became engaged in the doorway, effectively cutting us out of the frantic melee in which Nesteruk and Selene found themselves. It also allowed a third guard to hide from our assault, which would prove to be Nesteruk’s undoing.

Nesteruk has probably always viewed Fenn and I as weak since we lack his physical strength and Selene’s fortitude and courage. Maybe by holding his ground he was trying to protect us. Regardless, he was taking heavy damage in his already weakened state. I tried to protect him from my position but my healing energies and hexes could not keep up. The final blow came when the previously unknown third guard stepped from the mist and put a rapier in Nesteruk’s back. The mighty warrior collapsed to the ground, but we didn’t yet have time to address it as the battle continued. Now revealed, I manipulated my hauntlings to strip the rapier from the guard while Fenn stunned him with dazzling displays of rainbow color from his wand. Selene, Fenn, and I were able to corner him and finish the fight, but it was already too late for Nesteruk.

Though he battled furiously, Nesteruk had very little left to give when he entered that room, and he died. The blade wounded him but it was truly the witch’s curse that killed him. The painful irony is that, though Nesteruk hated witches more than any of us, it was a witch that brought him low. His memory will be a reminder of courage in the face of great personal burden and of the subtle knife that is witchcraft. May Pharasma look favorably on him.

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The Things that Haunt Us
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

The time on the plains of Irrisen had given me pause for self-reflection. This strange journey had come about so suddenly and taken us to such unexpected places that I had had little time to consider what was happening. Arana Snakeroot, the half-elven witch who had raised me since I was 13, had set this in motion when she had sensed something amiss among the winter witches of the north. It’s how Fenn and I found our way to Helderen in the first place. Within days we found ourselves magically whisked away to Irresen, hundreds if not thousands of miles away from home, the very place that Snakeroot divined trouble, and we were tasked with locating the mysterious witch mother Baba Yaga. The sheer improbability of it all was not lost on me. In time I would have to comtemplate this more.

My thoughts also drifted, as they did frequently in moments of solitude, to the nature of my existence. Though existential debate is a common past time of monastic clergymen and cloistered academics, my existential crisis seemed somewhat more concrete and immediate as both my physical and spiritual origin were obscured to me, things which could become a liability. Therefore, I developed several theories regarding the nature of my hauntlings.

Possible origins
1) I am not haunted. My father was simply mentally ill and I either share it or have been influenced by it. I was never spawned with the aid of some alien entities. The powers I manifest are mine alone and I simply haven’t learned to control them. This seems highly unlikely given the unusual circumstances of my life, but could also be the hardest option to accept.
2) The haunts are alien minds implanted at my conception by the being my parents communed with. These beings have an agenda of their own for which they wish to use me. Maybe I am a weapon or a gateway. Alternatively, they are explorers from a different dimension who need a corporeal anchor and their intentions are well meaning. The problems with my father may have been unrelated mental illness or some unanticipated consequence.
3) The haunts are shards of a powerful but long dead entity’s or forgotten god’s being. I am being used to reincarnate some powerful being and will eventually be overtaken by their will or other such agenda such as releasing them from imprisonment or reigniting their worship. Perhaps this has already begun to happen insidiously. Are these thoughts even my own?
4) The haunts are terrestrial, conventional ghosts. Maybe they are my own ancestors trying to aid me or convey some important information to me but haven’t quite figured out how. Perhaps they are other spirits looking for some way to release themselves from the material plane. Maybe they have more malicious intent.
5) The haunts are fey spirits. Having a family lineage linked to the Fey by some unspecified pact made through blood and seed and being the last of my bloodline, maybe I am the culmination if Kieron Black’s deal with the Dark Fey of the Deep Green. Perhaps I am meant to culminate the deal as the progenitor of a new race of Fey. I have found myself looking more fey and less human as time passes. In fact, many fey creatures seem to be a mix between humanoid and wild creatures, so this may be how new fey races are generated.
6) Everything I know could be a deception. Seeing the evils in this world done by witches and their ilk, perhaps my family has been deceived in some fashion and this curse is simply powerful or convincing magic, such as a witches curse. Is it possible that Arana Snakeroot orchestrated this entire thing and stole me from my parents? She was the one that sent me away from the Deep Green due to troubles she perceived with the northern witches. Perhaps this was a means to remove the Black line from the region or use our powerful sorcery to her own ends. Having been with her half my life it is hard to think such thoughts, but now that I am out here in the world seeing witchcraft, I have to entertain the possibility. If the Irresen witches can bind an innocent child’s soul to a construct, then what may Snakeroot be capable of? Maybe this Baba Yaga has some answers.

I continued to have lucid dreams about walking in primordial forests. I wished I knew what they meant. In one such dream, the day before we arrived at Whitethrone, a tree creature mentioned a deal I had made with “The Green Mother” and that it was amused by the fact that I did not yet know the terms of the deal. If it was the Green Mother of the Eldest that it was referring to, then I feared even greater trouble was waiting.

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