The day started with an odd dream.
Well for me it did, anyway.
The kind of dream that doesn’t leave any images to remember, only strange, whispered words and the feeling like something is a little off.
It was now morning, and most of the large robotic creatures had been sent off on the orders of the dark gnome, who had also now disappeared, and things were feeling a little weird.
Well for me they were, anyway.
The commotion of last night had died down outside of the cave system where we slept, and all was still. However, the scene there was unforgettable; everything in sight had been frozen solid; these huge, fearsome creatures of legend; Ice giants and dragons reduced to the same fate as the lowliest of slaves and the slowest of the Aurochs.
Though still looming, and unforgiving in appearance, the seemingly impenetrable fortress of the previous day was now lifeless and already felt forgotten.
The King-killing Human smashes through the thick layer of ice now covering the front entrance to the mountain and we enter to find the halls left desolate and uninviting. I’m not sure if it’s just me but everything seems to get colder, an unnerving chill sets into my bones as we pass the various rooms that branch off from the main corridor. Clearly, in his rampage, the Winter Fae sealed the entrances of each of these rooms.
The blurred figures of ice giants can be seen through the thick, frosted sheaths of ice. Red and pink smears stain the other side of the wall, their huge hands pressed up against the ice, disfigured from trying to claw their way out as the oxygen was slowly used up.
We reach the end of the hall and my thoughts are interrupted by the King-killing Human, he insists on breaking into the armoury. Once inside we find no magical items and surely nothing big enough for me to lift, let alone wield in battle. It hardly matters though, as my real interest lies in what the King-killing Human’s shadow-creature called the “room of bubbly liquids,” up ahead of us; oh yes. Despite being barely used, with everything inside covered in a thin layer of dust, I manage to recover several huge bottles containing potions of fly, invisibility, cure light wounds, and cure moderate wounds. I store these in my handy haversack and return to my large, lumbering companions in what I can only assume was the ice giants’ dining hall, though their questionable activities of the previous night may suggest otherwise.
We decide to explore upstairs; Aeryian, the elf lady (still holding the Dragon Orb) uses dispel magic on the glowing, crystalline spell formation blocking our ascension and we climb the staircase to the upper floor. We reach the landing to find two doors, each with a strong aura of magic, though the one on the left much more so than the other. We enter this door to find an almost-empty room with a large pentagonal shape carved into the floor, eight diamonds studding the walls and a podium with a huge book placed on top.
Naturally, we set about collecting the diamonds and the lady elf retrieves the book which shrinks once it is in her hands. With not much else to discover in this strange room we head across the hall and through the other door to find the sleeping quarters of the giant queen, Laufey. With little interest in what treasures may be hidden here, I wait as the others loot the room. The King-killing Human and the Birdman find magical jewellery of some description, and with all rooms of interest now explored, we return to the exterior of the mountain.
Outside in the snow our curiosity over what remains in the dragons’ entrance has us flying almost a mile up to peer through the ice wall also blocking off this area. Using fire elemental aura, I melt the ice away to reveal the place where nought but dragons would have visited before today, and inside, the limp bodies of young dragons are strewn throughout. The scene is heart-breaking, however we do find, under layers of dragons flesh, an egg of brilliant white, covered in a thin rime of ice. Everyone seems to agree that we should keep the egg, which is placed in my haversack for safe-keeping, though the Birdman seems to have something else planned for it. What, I couldn’t know but I will be sure to find out. Now finally, we leave this mountain for good, and perhaps as the last adventurers to enter this icy tomb for years to come.
We head back over to the cave system, all entering save for the elf lady who waits for something outside.
As she stands there, gazing up into the sky, I notice several things changing around us. Firstly, the wind starts to move and further chills the already cold air outside of the cave, and as it does the Girl with No Voice starts to cower into the walls of the cave, crying and shaking violently. I watch from the entrance of the cave system as the massive bear-creature and the Burning Girl move to comfort her and suddenly I feel overwhelmed with panic myself though I’m not sure why.
My mushroom hat starts to shake on my head, tiny little spores and droplets of water falling down in front of my face. I’m not sure why this is happening but I take it off my head and hold it gently in my arms; my head is spinning a little bit and for some reason I’m taken back to my strange dream of this morning.
The wind settles but the chill in the air grows ever colder, and in the sky appears a great dragon; absolutely freaking huge in comparison to the others, with one great horn protruding from its head and the scars of thousands of years’ worth of battles marking every inch of its scaly, white body.
It settles on the ground mere metres away from Aeryian, whose stature remains strong and unmoved.
The two study each other briefly; the demi-god and the ancient dragon.
“You must be very bold, winter fay, or very, very stupid to stand before me with my father’s soul on a stick” it says, in a low drawl.
With that icy stare I’m half surprised our elf doesn’t freeze over where she is standing.
“We have retrieved the orb to return to you as a gesture of good faith,” Aeryian replies confidently, though the ancient dragon seems less than impressed.
See now, I can speak Draconic, but hardly as fluently as the two creatures standing out in the snow. The conversation is fast but I pick up the gist of what is going on. After several minutes of what we might call bargaining – if the playing field was level – an agreement, or sorts, is struck. Aeryian agrees to give the dragon with a vial of her blood, and in exchange he will destroy the Dragon Orb.
This seems like a plan that definitely won’t come back to bite us in the butt.
No siree. Not us.
With that, the exchanges are made and the great dragon leaves after making one final promise, “You will never see me again.”
The air settles and the world feels still; for once, my companions are silent, though we know there is nothing left for us here. I place my mushroom hat back on my head where it starts happily eating the dirt from my hair, and everything feels a little better for a moment.
The Girl with No Voice brushes herself off, still shaken but clearly consoled by the great, lumbering bear, and we make our way into the caves – following a perfectly straight tunnel lined by blue lights until we reach the edge of the mountain range.
The next several days are comparatively uneventful. We travel by day, moving fairly silently; in our own ways and mostly in our own thoughts. The King-killing Human rides ahead of the rest of us on his shadow-horse, the Cavalier Human flies overhead on his Griffin, and the Dark Tiefling has been invisible for days but nobody mentions it.
Each night we take turns making fire, and eat Auroch while telling stories of adventures passed, including the one we are just now returning from. Laughter erupts as different members of the party recount their versions of the night, particularly the part of the story which has come to be known as the “grab-ass Tomfoolery”. The King-killing Human also particularly likes to retell the story of his name-sake, often trying to coax the Burning Girl to do the same. I’ve noticed, though, she goes very quiet around this time, and steals glances at the Girl with No Voice whenever he starts on the subject.
The robot 66 isn’t asked any questions and so sits quietly.
The frivolities die down as our aching bodies grow tired and we retire into various sleeping positions around the dying fire. The King-killing Human and the Cavalier stay up later than the rest of us sharing old battle stories, but they too eventually rest.
Each morning I wake up earliest; I sit up in my bedroll and contemplate my strange dreams. Regardless of my awareness of these dreams, no images remain once I am awake but the whispered words have become more clear, “Mama,” spoken softly, and over and over again, every morning.
I look around at my sleeping companions with a furrowed brow, something niggles at the back of my mind, like there’s something I should be picking up on but I just can’t think of it off the top of my head.
The sleepy travellers wake up, we pack up the campsite and continue on our journey back towards Skul Blaka.
On the final morning of our trek I wake up early yet again, by now I am convinced that my recurring dream is not a dream at all. Is it some kind of vision? Some creature calling me from some distance? By why “Mama”? I couldn’t be something’s mother.
What if something just thinks I’m its mother?
Why would something think that?
Okay, what do mothers do?
They… study… alchemy… a lot.
No, they… nurture?
That’s a thing right?
They’re like… around. In the vicinity.
…and they feed them?
My thoughts are interrupted by my mushroom hat wriggling on my head.
I pluck the mushroom from my head and hold it out in front of me, it squirms slightly, its tiny suckers happily grabbing at the air.
Well, that’s weird.
I return it to its place on my head and sit waiting for the other to rise, suddenly feeling like something makes a little more sense.
After a long day of walking we finally reach the small Vanifjordian village at dusk; the dark shadows already cast by the setting sun obstruct our view of the scene we are entering until just as we reach the entrance. Something pulls hard around my chest as it becomes apparent that the objects piled in neat stacks throughout the town square are in fact the villagers. I glance over to my companions, each one with horror on their faces, and I hear a grumble from someone remarking about the stab wounds and the shadowfell.
A shrill noise disturbs the shocked silence; manic laughter rings out in stark contrast to the scene. An elf with long black hair stands up ahead, silhouetted between two buildings. We approach him, his cackle seeming to echo around us.
“Did you do this?” asks the King-killer.
“I did not,” the crazed elf replied, giggling between each word.
I find myself too distracted by the surroundings to listen too much of the banter between the two, but my attention is quickly regained as the King-killer lunges forward to attack the cackling elf.
The elf steps back into a wisp of darkness, followed by the King-killer, both disappearing from sight.
Caught up in the excitement, the rest of us failed to notice the figures in the area around us until we were encircled by them. Some of the bloodied, cold corpses of the townspeople had reanimated and were now watching us with their lifeless, dead eyes. The Birdman yells to us that maybe it is a bad idea to fight them, but what other choice do we have? Without looking down, my fingers quickly find and assemble the required items for a bomb, holding a vial of liquid catalyst at the ready.
The Birdman clearly realises that the rest of us are preparing to start this fight regardless of any warnings, as he soon swings his massive sword into the air and strikes the first blow to one of the zombified villagers. Impressively, the Bear actually attacks one of the figures and eats it whole.
Remind me to stay away from that thing when it’s angry.
I take out two of them with two bombs. No sweat.
Aeryian is approached by the last zombie standing but the Birdman strikes one final blow and all is silent again. At some point during the fight the King-killing Human must have reappeared on a nearby rooftop, because that’s where he is.
The robot 66 informs us that the Chiefs of the village are approaching.
The King-killer looks out from his rooftop perch and calls down to us, the Chiefs are indeed approaching, and they are not alone.
The crazed, dark-haired elf is accompanying the party, cackling to himself as simultaneously, it would seem, we realise what it looks like we have done here.
Among the reanimated corpses was the daughter of Whale Rider, the main chief of the village, and from where he was standing it looked as though we had slaughtered the whole town; including his family.
I shrink to the corner of the group, easily hidden among all of these oafs. A trial was to be held to make a claim for our innocence; the Birdman cast a truth circle over the proceedings and the King-killer tried to explain the events as they transpired. Following this, the dark-haired elf, now known as River, simply sought to cast doubt on the integrity of the truth circle, and so on the integrity of the whole trial. Our story did sound pretty nonsensical, and none other could perform this spell.
We were found to be guilty by this thrown-together tribunal of Chiefs and banished from Vanifjord forever.
King-killer pleaded with his old Chief, as this had been his home for his whole life, and… did the Chief not see? He had been standing on the roof for the whole battle, there was no blood on his hands here.
Whale Rider gave the King-killer a choice; stay in Vanifjord alone and give up on his quest, or leave forever.
To this, King-killer responds, glaring at River though his words are directed at the Chief, “Tell me Whale Rider, is your ass sore from having River’s arm so far up it he can work your mouth like a puppet?” With that, he turns towards the entrance of the city, clearly livid with rage, so much so I think he’s started frothing at the mouth.
We follow him, manoeuvring through the limp bodies strewn over the path. The King-killer continues clenching his fists, swearing generally, and swearing his vengeance on River far into the night, even into his sleep; while the Burning Girl, also from the small village, remains quiet and withdrawn to her thoughts.
After a long day we finally rest.
I get comfortable inside my bedroll and fall asleep with a mushroom happily eating the dirt from my hair, and I know there are bigger things to come, but I think we could actually be okay.