The 4th day of Erastus, 4714
We have finally managed to rid ourselves of that shrew of a noblewoman. Hardly so much as a thank you to us for rescuing her. Though I generally do not consider myself to have much in the way of pride for my homeland, some of these southern customs are impossible to abide. What purpose does this woman have? What role does she serve that she can be concerned only with the next party and whether her dress will be in the current style? She has no use to society… she and those like her are more like parasites. (Side note; remember to pick up a copy of Shalem Avesta’s “Unfamiliars: A Study in Lesser-Known Bonds.” There are some interesting discussions on creatures bound to the body that I should study.)
Leaving Heldren, we made our way back to the lodge of the local rangers, yet at the pile where we burned the corpses of the bandits we’d fought, we could make out footprints. According to Valin and Ragnar, the prints were human-sized, but they dragged, as though limping or carrying a heavy load. The tracks led towards the bridge over the nearby gorge.
Beside a large oak tree near the bridge, four skeletons rose to attack us. One of the four was wearing a heavier suit of armor, but according to Cosmina, the armor of all of the skeletons was over 200 years old, their weapons and armor corroded beyond use. James, the priest of Sarenrae that we came across the other day, could tell that these were not normal skeletons.
There was little to be said of the battle. My own performance was sub-par, and several of us suffered from missed opportunities. My old friend Ragnar displayed his battle prowess and capability of manipulating that massive sword he carries with uncanny speed, cleaving through one skeleton to strike two others. The heavily armored skeleton was later identified by James as some kind of skeletal champion; a more powerful version of the normally mindless undead. The creature was capable of breathing a cone of icy frost at us, which on its second use dropped James and Valin. A quickly mixed curative extract brought James back to consciousness, who was able to use his divine power to aid the rest of us.
Ragnar utterly destroyed one of the normal skeletons during the battle, his greatsword Blutfang cleaving entirely through the chest cavity, but it was Cosmina who destroyed the skeletal champion, charging forward with her lucern hammer; a large polearm with a spike on one side and a hammer on the other. Afterwards, while we took a few moments to catch our breaths, I managed to come across a bottle on one of the skeletons. A quick taste and I could tell it was a light curative potion. I stored it aside; one never knows when you’ll need some quick healing.
The bridge across the gorge was made only of ropes, and swayed dangerously in the winds blowing through the gorge. As it had taken most of the day to get here, and since human eyes are notoriously bad in the dark, we decided to stay the night at the lodge, all of us succumbing the idea of a fire and a roof over our heads.
The 5th day of Erastus, 4714
We woke with the dawn this morning at the ranger lodge in the middle of the Taldan woods. I am quite sure that the snows deepened by at least another two inches overnight. Even being raised among the people of the Linnorm Kings, snows in the middle of summer are unnatural.
Coming outside, we began to debate methods of crossing the gorge, as none of us could exhibit much confidence in the rope bridge, especially after we spotted one of the ropes having been partially cut. The sabotaged bridge would have dropped us into the whitewaters below for certain. Cosmina began planning to fell the large oak tree, which would certainly cross the gorge. However, the time required to undertake this endeavor might let the snows reach Heldren before we were done. Instead, Valin came up with a plan to secure the bridge, crossing slowly and threading one of our own ropes as support until we were all able to cross.
All of us took our time and crossed the bridge slowly and carefully, making sure not to fall into the icy waters below. Only Ragnar, with his usual display of reckless bravado, decided to show his defiance of any danger and crossed twice as fast as the rest of us. Miraculously, he survived. Maybe next time one my bombs should accidently… no. I must not blow up party members over minor indignations. That would be… wrong.
Once across, we noticed additional tracks leading deeper into the woods. Ragnar followed them for a mile or so, then I noticed something off about one of the trees near him. Suddenly it whipped Ragnar with one of its branch-like arms, covering him a sticky sap. Recognizing the plant-like creature as a frost fir, I reacted faster than usual, bringing my crossbow to bear and killing it with a single precise shot. A second frost fir moved to attack us, but Ragnar rushed forward with a battle cry, Blutfang slicing completely through the creature’s bark-like skin. Knowing that frost fir resin can make tanglefoot bags even more of a inconvenience, I managed to collect enough resin for me to use in a few tanglefoot bags.
Nearby, we could see that the snow showed signs of battle, with blood on the ground. After Valin tasted it (disgusting, as I probably could have used an alchemical process to determine its origin), he was able to say that it was human blood. The trail led to a nearby clearing in the grove. Ragnar went first and got his foot caught in a bear trap (I must say, so far he has a perfect record for finding traps). As he and Valin worked to free his leg, Cosmina reminded us of the story in Heldren of a trapper that had seen a giant weasel and had planned on capturing it. Following the blood led us to the corpse of the trapper who’d been badly chewed up. Cosmina quickly claimed his snowshoes, as she was tired of sinking knee-deep into the snow with every step. The hunter’s journal detailed where else in the woods he’d lain other bear traps, and also made mention of a strange hut with a very creepy doll.
Continuing further down the trail, we could make out the site of a hut on the far side of an ice field. Cosmina spotted multiple bear traps, using sticks to set them off while Valin collected them for future use. The trail led to what might have been a clearing, but several boulder-sized chungs of ice littered the ground.
Then came the disturbing part. Cosmina and Ragnar each claim they spotted a young Ulfen girl among the ice boulders. According to them, the girl, who said her name was Thora, looked terrified, that she missed her mother and she “didn’t want the doll.” We entered the field of the ice boulders, and the ice showed us terrible scenes of a childhood of fear, and the faces of the dead. Valin and Ragnar both succumbed to the terror of this imagery. Both stiffened in fear, and when they were able to move again, Valin raced out of the ice field, climbing a tree on the far side to cover us with his bow. Ragnar… typically… began trying to hack away at everything within sight. Surprisingly though, his massive blows did little more than leave small nicks and chips in the ice.
Once he’d calmed down, the rest of us moved out of the ice field closer to the hut. In the doorway was a small doll that Cosmina said looked like the little girl she’d seen in the ice field, only with mismatched eyes. Ragnar began to say we should leave the doll alone, there was nothing to be done about it. Cosmina wanted the doll destroyed and the hut burned, asking me to do so. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by the idea that the doll should not be harmed. Looking back at it, I am certain my will was overcome by magic, but at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable.
Cosmina charged the doll, missing and managing to become impaled by ice spikes from the door. Valin fired his bow at the doll, missing, and in retaliation I fired back. In retrospect, I’m glad I missed as well. That would have led to an unpleasant conversation. Ragnar tried to pull Cosmina away from the doll, while she tried to strike the doll again, but stumbled into the hut itself. Ragnar then picked up the doll and threw it into the middle of the ice field. I took a look inside the hut to see if there was anything of note while Cosmina raced back outside after the doll. James jokingly suggested burning the hut down, but once he said it, he followed it up with a bolt of fire to the roof, setting the place on fire.
Cosmina found herself unable to overcome her dread at entering the ice field, and the same thing happened to Valin. With both Ragnar and I tired of the direction of this obsession over the doll, Ragnar threw Cosmina over his shoulder and carried her away from the ice field as we progressed deeper into the woods.
As darkness began to fall, we found a suitable campsite. Just as we arrived, Valin collapsed from exhaustion brought on by the cold, and we could see the beginnings of frostbite in his fingers and toes. I quickly offered a brick of blackfire clay to warm himself and we made camp, making sure the fire was high and warm. Cosmina is about to take first watch, then Ragnar and finally myself. A flattened brick of blackfire clay beneath my bedroll will ensure a night of warmth for me. I see no reason to burden the others with this knowledge. Maybe in the morning…
The 6th day of Erastus, 4714
So apparently last night was rather interesting. Despite Valin and James trying to wake me, I had little interest in watching Ragnar wrestling with a white tiger. I’d seen him do it enough with the hunting dogs back home that it could not hold my attention. I believe I mumbled something along the lines of “wake me if there’s three of them.”
Apparently Ragnar and this tiger went back and forth in controlling their wrestling, until a sniper in the tree shot the tiger. Whether Ragnar or the animal was the target no one could tell. I think I remember taking a casual shot at the sniper with my crossbow, but the warmth of the blackfire clay beckoned me back to sleep. Apparently both the sniper and the tiger managed to escape, a feat which left Ragnar infurated, as he had every intention of turning the tiger into a mount. Should I mention that his chances of domesticating an adult, predatory wild animal for a mount without magical assistance are about the same of him winning Golarion’s most charming man in the world award? Eh, maybe it’s best to let him have his fantasy.
We moved forward that morning, beginning to track down the giant weasel that the hunter had been going after. Ragnar was adamant that he was going to turn this one into a mount (perhaps I should get him a hamster and say it’s a miniature giant). In any event, the tracks and blood led us to the lair of not one giant weasel, but a mated pair.
Ragnar rushed forward, cleaving through both of them, which in turn bit him and Cosmina, wrapping their bodies around the two of them. Valin scampered up a tree to shoot at them, but his footing was weak and he fell out of the tree as he shot, nearly hitting Ragnar in the back (that would have been an amusing post-battle conversation to watch). Ragnar slashed at both again, one of the weasels taking a blow that nearly severed its spine. I quickly tossed a bomb a the creature, finishing it off, while Cosmina cut down the other weasel.
With both weasels dead, Ragnar’s dreams of a war sled pulled by giant rodents went down with blades and up in smoke. While we rested, Ragnar and James began to skin the animals and prepare the meat for rations, just in case it was a while before getting back to civilization. Valin and I argued over something trivial regarding the preparation of the meat, all the while Ragnar and James continued to calmly prepare their barbeque.
Cosmina went off to scout during this time, and spotted small tracks… small enough for a doll. She rushed back to draw our attention to the tracks, and we all followed her. However, the tracks had gone missing. Cosmina insisted she wasn’t going crazy, and after pushing through a light layer of snow was able to reveal the tracks… which led back towards our camp.
Hurrying back, we found the small covering over cooking meat had been collapsed, and the giant weasel heads, which had been put on sticks facing out away from the camp, had been turned to look into the camp. Ragnar and James were instantly infurated that someone had decided to “mess with their barbeque.” Ragnar raged that he was going to kill everything in this forest. If he decides to try then maybe I’ll stop back and check on him in 20-30 years.
Moving deeper into the woods and closer into the heart of this unnatural winter, the trail began to lead us to a clearing with several igloos. However, as we approached, a magical trap was sprung by Ragnar as he walked over it (continuing his perfect trapfinding record). Valin and I managed to stay outside the blast, but James was knocked unconscious. Cosmina quickly healed him with a touch, his wounds closing rapidly. A few seconds later, a tiny arrow imbedded itself in Ragnar’s neck. Had it been larger then we might have had to be concerned for the big guy’s life, but this arrow was only the same size as those fired at us by sprites a few days ago.
A moss troll and another fairie emerged from the snow, while James healed himself Ragnar charged the troll. The faerie tossed a thunderstone at Cosmina, but while she was able to shake off the effects of the loud retort, Ragnar was in the blast radius as well and his eardrums popped, leaving him temporarily deafened. Valin fired at th troll, while James and I were shot by the sprites. The troll’s spear found a home in Ragnar more than once, and Cosmina joined his fight against the troll. The sprites began retreating to the igloos, while I took the opportunity to fire at the faerie, that hovered a good thirty feet above our heads.
Swords and spear flashed back and forth in sunlight reflecting off the snow, some blows finding a home in flesh and staining the snow red. Bolts of fire flew from James’ hand, missing their mark and briefly setting fire to nearby trees, but they were quickly snuffed out by snow and wind. Soon enough the troll is felled by Ragnar’s blows, and I got ready to finish it off permanently with one of my bombs. The faerie, showing a great deal of foolhardy bravery, swooped down and with only the barest of touches drained Ragnar of life and health.
Suddenly, a creature of snow and cloud and wind appeared, kicking up a whirlwind of snow. The air elemental began creating blinding wind while Valin moved up to fire at the troll from, quite literally, point blank range (about twelve inches, maybe fourteen). I followed and dropped a bomb on the troll, engulfing it in fire and ensuring that it didn’t regenerate back to life.
Cosmina tried to attack the air elemental, but missed. While the faerie flew back up out of reach, the air elemental slammed Cosmina with a blow of its own and then moved back up into the air and out of reach, avoiding blows from Ragnar and Cosmina and speeding quickly out of sight. Valin and I both shot the faerie with arrows blanched with cold iron. While James performed his duties as a healer admirably, healing Ragnar of some of the damage that the troll and the faerie had inflicted on him, both Ragnar and Cosmina hurled javelins at the fae, both going wide. The faerie began to fly away, and as it did so the elemental reappared, slamming into Valin and breaking the elven man’s neck as the head twisted grotesquely around. Cosmina and I both missed the elemental with our attacks, but James struck true and sent the elemental back to its home plane.
By the time we reached Valin, there was nothing that we could do for him. His neck had been broken, as had several locations in his spine. We rest now for a few minutes, until we can search the huts and move deeper and further into the heart of this unnatural winter and uncover the reason for its occurrence. In the meantime, we shall burn Valindil with full honors. Though I don’t get close to anyone, I suppose he wasn’t that bad of a person. I worship no god, but I wish his spirit the best on its journey to the Boneyard.