The Howling Wastes - Part 1
The Architect points down the hall into the direction of the steady cold breeze, indicating the exit. He glances nervously at Glysh, who bears the cold iron of Ro-Rex that the Ancients fought so hard to overcome. Malharath telepathically provides reassurance, explaining what he knows of the Initiates of The Dawn, and recounting the fights fought against the undead remnants of Ro-Rex that have become The Night. It is some help, but the trauma from a lifetime of war is hard to overcome.
The Architect is deep in thought as the party reaches a broad set the stairs spiraling upwards, and pauses to address Daren, “Gar-Loa-Vox may be able to make his way to the Stargazer’s temple, but it will be a long journey and he has many enemies.”
The stairs ascend perhaps over a thousand feet to the chamber where Garlic had originally triggered the power of the columns. There is no trace of the dragon, or his human guise, in the dim light. There is only a light dusting of snow covering the featureless floor, and several oddly shaped lumps, which Daren is drawn to. He stands over one, then kneels before in and draws an item stung upon a chain from it. As he is doing this, Mika and Talos let out screams of pain as they finally manage to drive the possessing spirits out. One quickly flees to the ether, but the other turns to fight and is quickly banished from this plane.
As Mika and Dra’Thorn turn to investigating the pillars, Daren passes the item he found, a delicate metal vial of liquid on a chain, to Malharath, saying, “This is the last of the waters blessed by Lir, and carried by Brother Tom until his death at Garlic’s hands. It still holds her power and is connected to her living form. Carry it with honor and serve her well.”
Malharath takes it reverently, feeling a divine warmth radiating from it, and ponders what it means to become an initiate to a goddess.
As his companions strategize on how best to escape the chamber Malharath sits next to The Architect and communes with him telepathically, asking about the Isle of Song and some of the rites that were performed there.
He stares off, recalling a time a place far away, and the rites captured in song, replying telepathically, and settling his gaze on Craw de’Craw “The most powerful of songs held mastery over the destiny of races. It was there that the animals of Lir were first raised up and given sentience. First among them were the Ko-Kree, who were given wisdom and cunning. These same rites were invoked by the council to raise up many races against their will, to be used as fodder against Ro-Rex.”
As they conclude their talk, Mika and Dra’Thorn uncover some of the workings of the teleportation pillars. They transport themselves to the surface and lower ropes for their companions, who ascend without incident.
Up above, Garlic’s tracks, first as a dragon then shifting to a man, are barely visible among the snow drifts. They head directly to the rune portal and disappear.
The Architect glances around nervously, drawing an inquiry from Malharath, to which he replies, “I’Chola is still strong, and we are in the heart of his domain. He is a Great Fey Other, who has ruled these glacial wastes for time immemorial.”
Within the chamber housing the rune portal, Craw de’Craw’s horse and cats have been fed, but one cat is missing. All but one of the eight runes, the marking the line to the Amber Beast Clan, have been smashed, and that remaining rune stone is inactive. As the party surveys the damage, The Architect performs an elaborate series of gesture before each of Craw de’Craw’s remaining cats. When he is done, Craw inquires about the signs, and The Architect explains that he is showing respect to those that live in the wild and recounts a tale of the Rasha that asked Lir to return them to there animal form. In the eyes of Lir and her followers, they were the most sacred creatures on the planet.
Having no obvious path from this place, options for escaping the wastes are discussed, and two options are settled upon, either following a path to the next rune portal that is 250 miles away, or heading south across the wastes and finding a pass within the mountains that ring this region. It is quickly decided to seek a path to the portal, using the Blade of the Old World to maintain their course along the ley line.
When the decision is made, The Architect speaks up, “The way forward is a dangerous one. Food is scarce and dangerous to hunt, the storms are savage, and I’chola’s ghouls and wolves hunt whomever ventures into these lands. I may not survive the journey and there are things I would like to teach you before we depart, lest they do die with me. If we camp here for seven days, I can teach one of you the language of the portals, and another to read and speak the words of my kind.”
It is decided that camp will be made while The Architect teaches Mika the ritual necessary to forge rune stones and Malharath written and spoken Ancient. During Malharath’s instruction, he uses the Resonating Crystal and the rune portal to open up telepathic communication with scribes of his tribe and pass this knowledge to them. Unfortunately, the news he is able to get from his tribe is mostly bad. Although the attacks have subsided, the clans have been driven to the edge of the Green Hell by Talis Krieg, while the Night Priest Armada has withdrawn to Buma’Tu, leaving only for brief forays of an unknown purpose. Mika masters the art of forging the runes, but without the rare material to craft the stones, which is stored at the Stargazer’s temple and Southern Engines, the party is still unable to use the current portal
Also during this time Talos leaves in the night in pursuit of howling wolves, saying only, “There are wolves to hunt. I will kill them and then find you when I have taken their pelts.”
An effort is made to dissuade him, but he is stubborn and frustrated about waiting in the camp while prey is patrolling nearby. A prayer is offered to Lir on his behalf, as he departs into the wastes. During the final days of mentoring by The Architect, rations are counted and shared, the winter gear that was given by the Amber Beast Clan is readied, and final plans are made. Unfortunately, neither Mika nor Aduron have suitable clothing. It is estimated that the portal is roughly two weeks march away, and that winter is coming soon. Winter is likely to bring not only harsh storms and an even more bitter cold, but also the twilight of the day will slide to an eternal night. The available rations may be just enough to make the journey, as long as nothing goes wrong.
At the start of the expedition Daren steps out on to the snow and cuts his palm with Razor’s Tail, spilling the blood onto the snow as a tithing to I’Chola. He recalls learning the rite some lifetime ago, but it wasn’t enough at that time. Pau drives the Blade of the Old World into the ground and points the way to the portal for Aduron and Glysh, who are serving as the expedition’s navigators. Malharath, Pau, and Daren serve as lookouts while the march is underway.
The first day is cold, gray and storm free, but the course leads directly into a massive cliff of jagged ice shards formed by the collision of two ice flows. The massive cliff would take all day to climb, and any fall would be disastrous, so a new course is set skirting the edge of the flows. Camp is set in the open, with Glysh and Dusting on watch. It is obvious that the cold is debilitating Mika, and that it has set a fatigue upon her. Pau is effected also, but to a lesser extent.
When the morning arrives, there is meat set in front of the cat’s cages, but no sign of passage from anyone or anything. Daren offers a tithing, which Dusting takes time to craft into an effigy of an Ancient. Everyone breaks camp, resuming the march after Pau uses the blade to mark the direction to the portal. Conditions are much the same and the ice flow is still blocking the way, but the end is in sight. A large beast, which the Architect calls a snow whale, is sighted to the north, and allowed to pass unmolested, even though it represents a possible source of food. The evening march is greeted by the harsh glare of sun upon ice, that renders Daren and Mika blind, but the end of the ridge is crossed and a course towards the nexus is resumed.
Again, an overnight camp is made in the open with Glysh and Dusting providing watch. Mika manages to overcome her fatigue with help from Aduron and Malharath, but she is still badly weakened. A squall comes in the night, sapping almost everyone of some of their strength, yet Daren manages to overcome his blindness during the fitful rest.
The morning bring more cold and gray, with Malharath providing the tithe. Mika is so weak that Aduron agrees to carry her, in hopes of shielding her from the cold and exhaustion. At around mid-day, Malharath spots two massive bears, larger than anything he has ever seen, flanking the expedition, as well as an unusual domed object ahead in the snow. By the time the dome is reached, the bears have moved off.
The dome is indeed a structure that is large enough to shelter the entire expedition. There are no tracks leading either to or from it, or any sign of traps or inhabitants. Seeing the opportunity for a sheltered rest, the party sets camp, with Glysh and Dusting once again providing the watch. Not long after everyone is settled inside two dire polar bears come through the wall opposite the entrance, with one mauling Pau, and the other raking Mika.
Chaos ensues as Daren rushes to engage one and is gets mauled badly enough to fall unconscious. He is revived through the powers of Malharath, but is pinned under the massive beast, and being crushed. Pau strikes the other with his blade and unleashing a blast of lightning that pushes it back and creates an opening for Glysh. Once the shock of the bears initial assault is overcome, a merciless counter attack is mounted, lead by Dra’Thorn, who’s repeated onslaught of elemental fire vaporizes the remaining structure, and nearly immolates both bears. A series of tactical maneuvers by Craw, Malharath, and Aduron provides Daren with several openings to slash the beast over top of him, before he finally lands a decapitating blow. It’s mate fares no better as it is harried by Dusting’s precise blades, unable to overcome Glysh’s overpowering presence, and then has it skull smashed by Pau’s relentless fury.
The two beasts are badly mangled, but Glysh manages to skin their singed and slashed hides, before cutting as much meat and fat off the carcass as he can. Wounds are tended and the rest is continued in the inadequate remains of the dome. At twilight, the expedition resumes, and another snow whale is sighted ahead. With three days of the trek behind them, little progress made toward the portal and very little in the way of a food margin, the beast is eyed as a valuable but dangerous resource. The pace forward is quickened, and as the decision is made to take the beast, the expedition breaks into a run, weapons drawn.