A Song of Fire and Ice

Hells goblet by jameswolf d317f40

AT FIRST, DARKNESS, ONLY. And then, so slowly that you’re barely aware of what’s happening, you begin to see a pair of eyes: yellow, unblinking. To your horror, two more pairs of eyes appear on either side of the first. For an instant, the darkness lifts, and a terrible figure appears before you, a figure out of nightmares. No words does it speak, but for a single piercing instant, a baleful horn smites your eardrums, leaving you with weak knees and chattering teeth. Finally, just when you can take no more, the figure smiles horribly, and whispers: “In endless shadow, we wait.”

Chapter 4: A Song of Fire and Ice

Discovery by e w kn

THE PRINCE OF FROST, lord of the Winter Court. The son of the Summer Queen, they say, but all his feeling turned to coldness and ice long ago. When you hear the mournful cry of the wind in the darkest depths of winter, beware. It could be the hunting horn of the Prince of Frost, come to claim another trophy for his dark hall. He rules over a vast realm on this side. These lands are the furthest reaches of his domain.

In search of the mysterious antagonist who wants to harvest the organs of Aldor Rake, the heroes journey back to the city of Brindol, where the Second Wind got its start. Upon reentering the city, they come across a strange sight: an old man with seven yellow canaries perched on his shoulders, being shooed away from the entrance to a bar by a burly man who turns out to be one of the Fist’s oldest friends, Lawrence “Chuckles” Cranford. After the Fist catches up with Cranford, the party enters the Antler and Thistle Tavern, falling into conversation with friends old and new: Niniel Moonglow, Aldor’s former employer; Megan Swiftblade, leader of the Freeriders; and Odell Acton, city magistrate and priest of Erathis, a soft-spoken but intelligent man who misses little despite being blind. From them, the party learns that the Fist’s immediate superior in the city, Ellis Sheppard, may be aiding the forces that stalk Aldor. Through a combination of investigation, bluff, intimidation, and charisma, the heroes eventually corner Sheppard in a Brindol alley and force him to disclose what he knows: the agent to whom the Splinter reported, one Dara, can be found in an isolated cabin just outside town. The Fist spares Ellis’s life, but banishes him from Brindol, warning him that if the Second Wind should ever catch Ellis Sheppard on the wrong side of the law, he will receive no quarter.

Abandoned Cabin

The heroes find the agent Dara, who funnelled information to the Splinter in Overlook, in her cabin, though she and her allies are ready for combat. After a pitched battle, the Second Wind slays Dara, and find a cryptic set of notes indicating that whoever is stalking Aldor is fully aware of the party’s strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. On a scrap of parchment, a name appears: Zorn. Aldor swoons, the name triggering memories of sadistic torture at the hands of a merciless foe.

Voices from the Past

Another dark plot from the past catches the party’s notice. As you discovered in the previous chapter, an old servant of Nissa’s father, a certain Shanta Singh, has recently disappeared. Most townsfolk assume she has gone mad, just like her sister Priya. A letter discovered at Shanta’s old home suggests otherwise: Priya, a former criminal, has been possessed by something or someone with whom she came into contact while in the great prison of Oeth-Anoeth, located in the mysterious Feywild. Driven to madness, she hanged herself, but now whatever taint in her soul passed to her son Pravin, for whom Shanta is growing concerned. In desperation, the hardy old woman took Pravin to the same woods where Priya hanged herself, hoping the dead sister’s spirit would appear and banish the demons from Pravin’s mind. The two have not been seen since. Braving the woods, the party performs the necessary ritual to make the ghost of Priya appear, opening the crossing to the Feywild and stepping into the shimmering, unsettling beauty of the fey realm.

Into the Feywild

Through the trackless expanses of the Old Forest, the heroes stumble onto an aged gnome, Gorin by name, who once knew Nissa’s father Pock and the rest of his adventuring band, the Creeping Shadows: a necromancer robed in black, a beautiful woman warrior, and an elf, a bard of the harp. He warns the party against crossing the Prince of Frost, who rules this region of the Feywild through his vice-regent, the captivating but ice-cold Maiden of Mourning. He also directs you to the village of Mistwatch, on whom the pall of despair has fallen; here, perhaps, the heroes can find clues to the whereabouts of Shanta and Pravin.

Bringing down the Walls

In Mistwatch, the party discovers a pair of brothers, Walid and Farooq, whose sister Yanila has been imprisoned in Oeth-Anoeth for nothing more than taking fruit from an orchard out of starvation. The villagers of Mistwatch direct you to Oeth-Anoeth, which the Second Wind successfully brings down by leading the prisoners in a revolt. Within the old cell of Priya, the party finds strange writing on the walls, the same haunting lines of poetry that came to Nissa in a dream months ago. Priya’s misfortune was sharing a cell with Lina, a shifter who once worked as a renovator of the ancestral home of the black-robed wizard who murdered Nissa’s father Pock. Yanila is able to direct the party to the old house, several miles from the shattered prison.

The Hedge Maze

At the house, the party passes through a chill, deserted orchard and gains entry through the front doors by speaking the same lines of poetry that constitute the mystery. Searching the rooms, the heroes find evidence that the Creeping Shadows once lodged here, with each of the four adventurers (Pock, Celebrimbor the elf, the black-robed wizard, and the warrior-bard) having occupied a room. In Celebrimbor’s old bedroom, Shanta lies in a catatonic stupor, under the spell of whatever force inhabits the house and its grounds, a force that waits, as she repeats in a lifeless monotone, “at the heart of the maze.” The warrior-bard’s bedroom contains unedited versions of the poem the party already knows, revealing that Celebrimbor stole the verses that haunt Nissa’s dreams and passed them off as his own. Lastly, the wizard’s room holds arcane texts on the Prince of Frost, making clear the ruthless, icy nature of this fey lord and his lieutenant, the Maiden of Mourning. Though he once dwelt in the court of the Summer Queen, who blessed Nissa at birth with her radiant smile, his heart long ago turned to ice, and he rules his own barren realm, making cruel sport of mortals whose fates fall under his shadow.

At the hedge maze, the heroes finally confront the sorrowful, anguished spirit of Celebrimbor, who has completely possessed the boy Pravin. Forced to wade through the agonized recesses of the ghost’s mind, the party discovers, in images and fragments of words, the memories that haunt the ghost, memories that tell of betrayal, jealousy, spurned love, and finally, a terrible vengeance. A fierce battle ensues, after which Celebrimbor departs Pravin’s body, finally laid to rest and returning the boy’s spirit to his body. With Celebrimbor’s departure, the spell over the grounds lifts; Shanta regains consciousness, and is able to tell what she knows. Though the heroes have succeeded in their quest to save Pravin, they still have more questions about the dark events surrounding the demise of the Creeping Shadows, questions that hold the keys to unlocking Nissa’s past.

The Wexford Hall Mystery

The party steps back through the fey crossing into the mortal realm, and return to Brindol. Almost immediately, they plunge from one mystery into another, this one an urban crime: the murder of Lady Calliope St. Clair, a prominent businessman and noble in Brindol. Pressed into service by Lord Marsden Kaal, the heroes are tasked to find Calliope’s murderer, but the path is a twisted one, filled with dead ends and blind alleys. Lady Calliope, in addition to being a woman of enterprise, was also a blackmailer, with secret holds over many of Brindol’s elite. Initially, suspicion falls on the husband, the dashing Devon St. Clair. Subsequently, the Fist discovers that his old friend Lawrence Cranford has become addicted to a drug with which he was being supplied by a cold-eyed, taciturn man named John Garnett, whom he met near Wexford Hall on the night that Lady Calliope was poisoned. More murders follow:

  1. The haughty, witless fop Edgar Sommerfield at last gets his comeuppance.
  2. John Garnett is revealed in death to be “Headmaster” Jakob Gant, the hateful, tyrannical former principal of Hopeful House (the orphanage in Marthton where the Fist spent much of his sad and lonely childhood).
  3. Clara Parker, the inquisitive kitchen-maid of Wexford Hall, stepped out for a walk at the wrong time and evidently saw the murderer enter Garnett’s house.

At last, the trail of clues leads back to Devon, and his henchman, the stablemaster Bob McGinty. Far from being a dispute over inheritance, or a blackmailed victim seeking to end Calliope’s life, the case turns out to be a religious conflict between worshipers of different archdevils. Lady Calliope (along with Sommerfield, Garnett, and Lord Kaal himself), was a secret worshiper of Dispater, patron of tyranny and paranoia and ruler of Dis, the Second Hell. One of the oldest archdevils of the Nine Hells, Dispater has had many foes through the eons, but none deadlier than the deposed ruler of Stygia, the fifth Hell, a name of infamy and dark legend: Geryon, the Broken Beast, whose reward for staying loyal to Asmodeus during a time of hellish revolt was, inexplicably, to be stripped of his title and cast out of Hell. Devon, the party learns in course of the investigation, was a worshiper of Geryon, determined to weaken Dispater by systematically murdering his faithful. This, the party realizes, is why Lord Kaal asked them to investigate: he wanted the murders to stop, but did not want to expose his vile religious beliefs to the city of Brindol.

However, the Second Wind moves too slowly to stop Devon and McGinty not only from fleeing, but from kidnaping Lord Kaal himself. Pursuing them through the city of Brindol, the heroes corner the duo beneath an abandoned temple, where Devon has erected an altar to Geryon. He plans to sacrifice Lord Kaal, spilling his blood in devotion to the Broken Beast, and asks the party to aid him in his deed. Lord Kaal, he tells the Fist, was allied with John Garnett, both worshipers of the same archdevil to whom the Fist’s father, one Francis Strong, gave his soul. The whole truth is even darker: Strong still lives, but resides in the iron city of Dis, where every day he visits unspeakable torments on the soul of the Fist’s mother. Devon knew them both when he lived in the great city of Dennovar to the east. A pitched battle ensues, in which you slay both Devon and McGinty (the latter actually a devil in human form), leaving the heroes to confront the bound and gagged Lord Kaal. After compelling him to hand over the promised reward, the party releases him from his chains, but issue a stern warning: they know him to be a worshiper of Dispater, though he can deny it all he wishes.

On the surface, all is well for the Second Wind: two quests resolved, a substantial reward in their pockets, and a growing reputation as the doughtiest adventurers Elsir Vale has to offer. But while the party has increased in stature, they are still embroiled in the machinations of powerful foes, whose plots may still yet come to fruition…

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A Song of Fire and Ice

Scales of War jayrajiva