Journey to the East

An Unwelcome Friend (5th December 4711)
5th December 4711

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Eiravel didn’t look very happy about it. She gestured towards the table and nodded sullenly at Dinald and the others. The sharp, well dressed man sat down without invitation.

Unshaven and slightly battered, the man wore a look of desperate exhaustion as obvious as the fine stitching on his forest green doublet. He nodded knowingly at the group, trying to muster an expression of false confidence.

“You may not know me. I am an old……aquaintance of the….ah…… much sought after Eiravel here. I’m Grigori.” Eiravel quietly fumed. Grogori ordered a beer, and took a long swig.

“I need your help with something. I did a job the other night, and I think I got in over my head.” He looked sideways, as if checking for something. “The Watch just got done grilling me hard for most of the afternoon. I’ve got to lie low a while, but my girl Ilyana, she doesn’t know. They may not be so kind to her, especially since she’s wearing some my handiwork, if you know what I mean.”

Grigori took another pull from his flagon. “If you can find her first, I’ll make it worthwhile.” He handed Ailukka a square of artists’ canvas bearing the charcoal sketch of a striking tiefling woman.

“This is her likeness.” he continued. "And look in the Fire Quarter. She has friends working at the Silk Scabbard. Filipa maybe, or Iskra. Either might know where she is. ” He took one last drink from his mug. “Tell them Grigori brought them their earrings. They’ll know I sent you.”

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Making Plans (28th November 4711)
28th November 4711

Ailukka was looking forward to the break. They would be remaining in Kalsgard until the end of January at least. What was best was that she had little to do: the bulk of the planning would fall on Sandru and Ulf.

According to Ulf, this was the very worst time of year to attempt a crossing of the Roof of the World. They needed to reach the High Ice in early spring, to maximise their chances of good weather (or at least, as good as it got) for their crossing. Ukshakka would be leaving Kalsgard after the WInter Festival, to prepare suppiles and a change of beasts ahead of them. Ulf Gormundr had suggested to Sandru that his caravan should avoid the primary caravan route that passed through the trade-town of Unaimo for the time being and instead journey to a cliff-village he knew of some miles to the west, called Iqaliat: Uksahkka would make preparations and meet them there.

When they had reached Kalsgard they had agreed to go straight to see Fynn Snaeveld. They gave as as much of their story as they thought was prudent, though Lute, the merchant they had rescued, had spilled out a little more. The hawkish old merchant had eyed them strangely.

“A bargain is a bargain” said Fynn, “and I will present the blade to you as a reward. Even now it makes me feel uncomfortable handling it.”

“I see however more than you choose to reveal. These shadow warriors: Ninja they are called- I know of them from my travels. And for the Rimerunners to be running such an organisation? The King must know of this.”

“I can bear witness” said Lute. “The King will have to act!”

“But I set one simple condition before I relinquish the sword. I wish to see this relative of the man I bought it off. It is clear to me that this all revolves around her. That old man was in a great hurry to sell the sword to fund his familiy’s flight southwards. I am guessing he had powerful enemies, who would not wish his heir to return?”

They had all looked at one another rather sheepishly; Fynn was very astute.

“I am no longer old enough to travel”, said Fynn. “But indulge an old man in this and I might be able to help in ways you might not think.”

They had agreed and half an hour later Ameiko had appeared with Sandru. Reynald and Shaleelu kept watch outside. The old man stared at Ameiko intently.

“Yes. Yes.” he nodded finally. “I see the resemblance to your grandfather. You have his eyes.” Bowing he handed Suishen over to Ameiko.

She suddenly jumped as though given a sharp shock. Then she collapsed to the floor.

“Here we go again” thought Dinald.

She was soon revived however, and asked for the sword, and then she looked up strangely.

“The sword has told me much” was all she would say. “I will tell you later, but it says we can trust Fynn Snaeveld.”

More discussions had evolved, and the top and bottom of it was that Fynn had agreed to invest the caravan for its expedition, which was something of a relief to Sandru. Listening intently, and with an eye for an opportunity, Lute had also agreed to invest several thousand crowns.

Fynn had been as good as his word, and had recieved an audience with King Sveinn. The upshot was a major shake up in Kalsgard. Sveinn had suspended the Rimerunners Guild’s operations and seized all of its assets while investigations were being conducted. Publically he had immediately distanced himself from his formerly cordial relations with Thorborg Silverskorr. With his hands on the Rimerunner’s assets Ailukka expected that it would be a very long time indeed before the investigation was concluded.

“From what you say I suspect the real Thorborg Silverskorr is long dead.” said Fynn, “This Katmandatsu no doubt found it convenient to adopt her identity.”

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Return to Kalsgard (25th November 4711)
25th November 4711

Between Ulf and Suishen, Rasha was getting a headache. They had found Ulf in a cell beyond Katmandatsu’s chamber, a tall gruff man, with shaggy blonde hair. His gear was nearby too, as well as a sizeable quantity of loot.

To say the man was touchy however, was a bit of an understatement. More than once Dinald and Ailukka had intervened to prevent arguments with Ungo, Eiravel, Lute or himself. He was feeling worn out. At least with a whole caravan there would be more people for Ulf to argue with, and so perhaps it wouldn’t be quite so wearing. He’d better make sure Ulf wasn’t on his wagon.

That damned sword too was so persistent. Single minded was an understatement.

“Ameiko. Take me to Ameiko. Now! Now! NOW!” the voice seemed to scream in his head.

“WE’RE NEARLY THERE GODDAMMIT!” shouted Rasha out loud, and then realised that everyone was staring straight towards him. He muttered something under his breath.

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The Bitter End (22nd November 4711)
22nd November 4711

Down below Eiravel once more crept forward. The corridor turned a corner and a dim glow of some hidden brazier revealed that ahead the hallway widened into a small chamber. She noticed a tripwire connecting to a simple bell alarm, and quickly disarmed it.

Where the corridor opened out she could make out the dim shape of a man swaying slightly, but other wise making no movement. She heard the faint sound of creaking, and the unpleasant odour of something she couldn’t quite place. Moving back she whispered her findings to the others.

Ragnar moved forward, and then wished he hadn’t. The red glow of the brazier revelaed at least half a dozen swaying forms-all dead and rotting. The things moaned and started shambling towards them. He shouted, and Ungo rushed forward.

As Ailulla moved further up to illuminate the scene another form fluttered through an open doorway-the sorcerous blood red raven they had encountered earlier. Ragnar shouted a warning and then was stunned by a gout of flame from the creature.

Through the doorway another figure appeared, a green skinned roughly man sized figure with a huge fur cloak and barbaric appearence: there was something troll like about his features-some sort of strange half breed perhaps.

“Wodes informed me of your coming” he sneered. “Know that Goti Runecaster slays you now!” With that he swallowed something and vanished, and Ungo hacked one of the cadavers down and raced towards the spot he had been standing in.

From the rear of the group Rasha yelped in surprise as the lithe hooded figure they had fought earlier in the hall upstairs reappeared, and kicked him hard in the side of the ribs. Gasping for breath he turned round and drew Vigilant.

Meanwhile Ailukka had sidestepped one of the fallen zombies and pointed her wand at the raven: a gout of flame shot out and there was a smell of burned flesh: the fey raven crashed charred to the ground.

There was an invisible howl of anger and several bolts of greenish fire appeared from thin air and crashed into Ungo, burning his skin. A pit appeared, seemingly from nowhere beneath Ragnar, but he managed to somersault backwards out of the way. The zombies were all fallen now.

A lucky guess from Ungo swept C***slicer round in an arc which connected with invisible flesh, and a huge gout of blood splashed out. Semi visible now Ragnar, Ailukka and Ungo surrounded and hacked at the mage, while Rasha fought defensively against the elusive assassin in the corridor, with Eiravel attempting to trip her with cracks of her whip.

With a final curse the mage fell, and all attention focused on their remaining opponent. Although she was hard to hit, she was already wounded from her previous encounter. Finally, a blow landed, and the room became quiet.

Exhausted the group took a short fifteen minute breather. There was at least one bright spot- Dinald was starting to see again, after he had bathed his eyes with water. Blinking, he grinned at the others, as they looted their opponents, Eiravel getting the assassin’s dagger out of it.

Apart from a couple of side chambers, there was a corridor turning north and then east. Guarding it were two statues of Tien warriors, which Ailukka eyed suspiciously as magical. They did not react when the group passed and opened the door however.

Inside was a diamond shaped chamber which had been transformed into a multilevel architectural wonder. The chamber was divided into two tiers, the upper tier lying twenty feet above the lower tier, and rotated forty-five degrees. The peak of the ceiling rose to a pyramid sixty feet above . The diagonal orientation of the upper tier formed four twenty-foot-high ledges above the walls of the lower tier. A fountain issued from the southernmost of these ledges, pouring in a waterfall to a decorative pool containing several ruby-hued koi. Black lacquered folding screens had been set at various places about the room, creating a veritable maze of panels.

At one end sat a beautiful fair haired woman in rich clothing, and sat at a small table nearby was one of the black clad warriors- this time with his hood down and a small owl of wine in front of him.

The woman smiled broadly, and walked behind one of the screens. The shadow warrior tumbled backwards of his stool, also out of sight. As they moved cautiously forward they heard a sound of silver laughter from around them.

“These pathetic attempts at disrupting out plans are futile” laughed the voice, " And now you will all die!"

“Who are you?” called Rasha, looking round."

“It is Katmandatsu who will slay you” called the voice. “I control both the Frozen shadows and the Rimerunners, and soon all of Kalsgard will dance to my tune. And then all of the Lands of the Linnorm Kings will bow to my masters.”

“Masters?” asked Dinald timidly.

“I am Katmandatsu of the Five Storms, Servant of the Jade Regent.” called the voice, seeming somewhat harsher and more gutteral now. “You may have slain that fool Kikunu in Brinewall, but your trail ends here. And after you the little princess will die, and the Ameritsu’s pathetic line will never return to Minkai!”

“Now. Die.” an oversized arrow shot down and plunged into Rasha’s shoulder, burning with flame. Looking up they saw an ogre like female form clad in lamellar type eastern armor, wielding an oversized bow. She was perched on the ledge above the koi pool.

At the same time four dark clad figures appeared as if from nowhere, blades stabbing deep into flesh. The fight was on.

A handful of zombies lurched forward to block the assassins- this time under the control of Ailukka, who had used some of Goti’s scrolls to animate the corpses of dead minions- somewhat to the distaste of Dinald and Ragnar. With the undead creatures protecting her, she fired her wand up at the Ogre Mage.

Leaving the dark clad assassins to Ungo, Dinald and Uksahkka, Ragnar ran and leapt for the ornate stonework, clambering up towards the shelf bearing Katmandatsu. The Ogre Mage herself was pumping arrows into Rasha and Ailukka, though they too were hitting her. Rasha stumbled badly wounded, groping for potions, and Katmandatsu cast some icy spell striking Ragnat and all in her immediate vicinity; however, a lucky casting from Dinald left her stunned, and she staggered backwards out of line of site.

The assassins were all vanquished now, and quaffing a potion she had retrieved at Brinewall, Aliukka started to rise upwards into the air, her wand still held forward as Katmandatsu again came into her view. As the Ogre Mage shook her head Ragnar too reached the ledge, and noted with some apprehension that her wounds were in some way knitting together.

It was too little too late however, and as he swung his Temple Sword towards her, Ailukka also hit her with a jet of flame.

Giving a scream of anguish and a tusked glare at Ragnar, she tried to reach for the brass studded staff slung over her shoulder, but as he drew his sword out she toppled forward to the ground. Katmandatsu was dead.

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In the Basement (22nd November 4711)
22nd November 4711

The stairs descended into a plain room of mortared stones. The walls dripped with condensation, giving the air a cold, clammy feel. In the distance they could hear the sound of running water.

Outside was a corridor running to the north. Where it opened out ahead there was a dim red glow of some hidden fire. The corridor itself was cut by an underground stream, with a simple plank bridge lying on the far side. On the near side was a simple bell.

Checking instead a door to the west revealed a natural cavern some thirty feet across and fifteen feet high. A waterfall poured in through a small aperture high on the south wall, filling a turbulent pool in the floor and sending a cold spray throughout the room. A smoothed ledge extended outward from the door, and two large barrels had been set to the right of it. Another ledge sat on the far side of the pool. A smaller cask sats on this ledge, next to a heavy wooden door.

“Let’s leave this for now” said Ragnar, and taking a running leap jumped across the stream to the corridor beyond, and then quietly set the plank bridge in place. Having done this he crept forward towards the red glow.

As he approached the room it seemed oppressively hot compared to the rest of the cellars. A coal furnace roared in the far wall, giving the room a dull red glow. A heap of coal was stacked against the east wall. An iron door opened in the ceiling above the coal pile. Three crude beds made of poorly cured bearskins and wolf pelts had been thrown on the floor before the fire. A hogshead rested between them, next to the bloody bones of some unfortunate creature. Staring straight towards him were two huge figures, wrapped heavily in furs and woolen caps.

“Blimey!” said one of the Trolls. “It’s a little ’un! Ketch it quick ’Arry!”

“Oh dear” thought Ragnar, well aware that the others were well behind him negotiating the plank bridge. But ’Arry moved forward with surprising speed, and he found himself engaged.

A lucky blow from Ragnar’s sword sent the troll reeling, but he noted that its wounds seemed to be quickly re knitting themselves.

""Quick! Quick!" he yelled. “Trolls: need fire!”

Ungo managed to rush forward towards the fray, followed by Rasha and AIlukka, now relying pretty much on Trollsplitter or her Wand of Fire: possibly the right tool for the job. One of the things lunged at Ragnar and bit deep, and Ungo took a crushing blow as he ran in close to engage. At the rear Dinald, his eyes now bandaged, shouted to ask what was going on.

But the first troll was down with a combination of blows and a victim of their own bad luck. As its wounds knitted Ailukka fried it with a gout of flame.

Beset by everyone now (excepting Dinald), the remaining troll fought fiercely, but was eventually overwhelmed. A flask of alchemist’s fire burned the thing as it sought to regenerate.

“We are in really bad shape” said Rasha, " We could do with a rest."

“We can’t really rest here” replied Ragnar. “If we do they’ll become alerted and call in reinforcements-that raven has already escaped. We need to do this quick or never.”

Using a few of their slim cache of remaining potions they looked towards a wooden door to the west.

As Eiravel opened it she saw a lit room with a ceiling rising twenty feet overhead, its heavy beams serving as both rafters and supports for the great hall above. Teak paneling covered the walls, and the floor was of polished wood. Along the walls, wooden columns rose to the ceiling above, bearing banners emblazoned with pictograms from far-off Tian Xia. Above these hung small oil lamps that gave off a dim glow. A small porcelain bowl rested before the center column to the south, and four reed mats were arranged before it.

“It’s a Dojo” said Ragnar, in mild surprise. He nodded towards a row of doors along the north wall, and the group quietly moved inside. They all failed to notice the four silent forms dropping quietly to the floor from the dark rafters above.

Two were native Ulfen, and the others showed unmistakable Tian heritage. They wore only simple black robes, and carried a throwing spear. These they flung at Ungo and Uksahkka before closing unarmed. Their fists and feet struck with lightning speed and the fight was on. Rasha fired his arrows, which the attackers seemed able to deflect with their hands.

As combat was joined a door in the far end of the room entered and a graceful female form, masked and dressed in black entered. In one hand was a slim blowpipe, but she instead threw three tiny shuriken at Ungo, which cut into his shoulder but then seemingly caused his cloths to smoke and burn, as he gasped with pain. She seemed elusive and hard to hit,as she dealt painful blows to her foes.

The original four assailants were all down now, but both Ungo and Ragnar were being severely pummelled, with Ungo’s sleeve now fully ablaze. Behind them Eiravel attempted to keep them on their feet with the final few charges from the healing wand. Rasha drew Vigilant and all attempted to surround their ferocious attacker. Rasha finally managed to get a powerful strike in, and she darted hateful eyes before making a quick gesture. There was a puff of stinking, smoking cloud and they gasped and rubbed their eyes. When they looked again their opponent was nowhere to be seen.

Ungo was dragged back to the corridor and his arm plunged into the icy stream, where he gasped with relief. They made what healing efforts they could, fortunately finding a handful of spare healing draughts in the quarters to the north.

Beyond the Dojo they discovered another room-apparently the quarters of some mage: Goti Runecaster perhaps. They rummaged for scrolls and potions, and also discovered a wand. Further along the corridor another set of steps led down.

“We should check that water chamber first” said Ragnar. “I feel we might have missed something important.”

Tramping back Ragnar did a running leap and managed to get across. The wooden door was locked however. Eiravel attempted to use one of the barrels as a raft, but this was a hopeless task and she plunged into the icy water.

Dragging herself out near Ragnar and her teeth chattering, she opened the lock within a matter of seconds. She cast an illumination spell and she and Ragnar looked in, revealing an empty room with a small well at the far side. Ailukka had warned them earlier that she sensed some powerful magic in here.

As the pair moved in Eiravel caught a hint of movement above her. She shouted something and managed to sidestep something which plopped from the ceiling. And then something covered her head and wrapped cold coils around her neck, and she was gasping for breath.

Ragnar found himself in exactly the same situation, and he tore frantically at whatever it was attempting to smother him. It’s flesh was repulsive and slug like, but in a matter of seconds he had clawed the thing way, and then attacked the one smothering Eiravel. As he ripped it off she started to scream at the top of her lungs, and then stamp and crush at the two which had missed, and were slowly crawling away from them across the floor.

eventually they moved across to the well@ an ornate sword on Tian design seemed lodged down the narrow shaft- as though perhaps it had been carelessly tossed down.

It seemed that a voice spoke inside Ragnar’s head.

“I am Suishen. Rescue me” the voice seemd to say.

“I think we’ve found it!” called Ragnar.

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Ravenscraeg (21st November 4711)
21st November 4711

After tramping through a marshy landscape the hills rose sharply ahead into a steep and craggy shale escarpment hundreds of feet high. Tucked into a narrow defile between two of these crags was a stone-and-timber longhall and tower, weathered and gray. The hall stood nearly one hundred feet above the base of the cliff, with only a single wooden stair climbing in a series of switchbacks up the gate. All was silent save for the raucous caws of the ravens that congregate atop the hall’s tower and ridgepole high above. Fortunately they had been able to avoid their own raven watchers during their escape from Kalsgard, two days to the north.

They made camp in a small wood and waited till dark. They padded forward, and saw the rickety wooden stair climbing the cliff face in a series of switchbacks to the fortified hall ninety feet above. The stairs and rails were built of timber planks, silver with age, and climbed haphazardly through a series of railed landings on their winding ascent. In some places the stairs and landings were secured directly to the rock face, and in others they hung free upon wooden supports and buttresses driven into the rock. Lichens and moss covered the stairs and rocks, with pale vines, roots, and blooms of nightshade, willowherb, and bog tea sprouting from occasional crevices in the stone. Upwards they climbed.

Some 50 feet up one of the short flights of stairs rose to a landing abutting the cliff face. A small hollow in the rock was plastered over with what looked like a huge wasp nest. A sudden movement caught their eye, and a large shape lunged at Dinald, biting deep with sharp mandibles. He flinched backwards in horror, avoiding its grasping pincers.

It was as large as a cow, with a head something like a cross between a fly and a series of strange fungal growths. Buzzing wings held it aloft, and a coiled sting threatened from the rear of its body. Spells and arrows flew at the creature, as the group jostled fro position on the narrow stairwell. As he drew close, Ragnar too received a painful nip.

Further confusion entered the fray when three silent shapes dropped from above, two at the head of the stars near Ungo, and one at the rear behind Uksahkka. Blowgun darts puffed, but failed to find their mark. The new arrivals were clad like their assailants on Snorri’s funeral ship -but these were not men. Raven beaks and feathered heads peeked out of their hoods, and their feet ended in birdlike claws. Black wings sprouted from teir backs, though they wielded weapons in feathered hands.

A wave of frozen air crackled again through the air at the flying monstrosity, which plummeted to the valley floor below. At the top of the stairs Ungo found himself flanked by a pair of the newcomers, and their Tian blades bit deep as he shouted for help. Although outnumbered the new comers were helped by the narrow stairwell, and their trick of disappearing in the blink of an eye, only to move into sight again with a blade stuck in someone’s back made them extremely difficult opponents.

Numbers did eventually triumph however, but not without a cost in cuts and wounds. Even when wounded, the attackers would not retreat. Quickly they made their way to the top of the stairwell.

A wide porch surmounted the rickety conglomeration of stairs and landings below, providing a moonlit panoramic view of the boggy plains that extended to the hazy horizon. The looming gray stone hall of the fortress blocked further progress. Inset arrow slits with heavy wooden shutters flanked a bronze-banded portal that lead within. Above, three more arrow slits looked out over the precipice. Eiravel fiddled with her lockpicks and hoped that the door wasn’t bared from the inside. The primitive lock clicked open.

Peeking though she saw rows of pillars supporting the roof of a long hall. Torches set into pillar sconces and two fire pits set with iron spits in the center of the rush-strewn floor gave the room a ruddy glow. Several doors opened into rooms on either side beneath ten-foot-high balconies lined with feasting tables. At the far end of the hall, a 15-foot-high balcony with the master’s high table looked out over all. Smoke holes cut into the roof high above allowed in more light and the croaking of the many ravens that roosted on the roof’s ridgepole could be heard. Quietly they moved inside, and made their way along the silent hall.

A fluttering from the rafters above made Ragnar look up, and then he saw the ravens swooping down- dozens of them; in a few moments they were surrounded by the birds and flailing wildly around them while trying to protect their eyes from savage beaks.

No sooner had they beat of their attackers when doorways either side of the hall swung open , and eight or so armed and armored retainers rushed out, wielding swords and battleaxes. From the far side of the hall four dark clad figures with unmistakable Tien features rushed out, quickly flanking Ungo and stabbing him with well practiced blades. The fight was on.

Bloodied and with many wounds, eventually they stood occupants of the hall. DInald used up many of the charges in the healing wand he had found, and Eiravel used up the majority of her healing magics. Numerous potions were also spent. Ungo sighed.

Exploration of the hall revealed several bunkrooms, and a locked room which proved to be a wine and food storage area. A corridor at the rear of a hall revealed a kitchen, and, surprisingly, a rear entrance to a picturesque dell squeezed between the steeply sloping flanks of the nearby crags that rose a hundred feet or more overhead.

A narrow waterfall rushed in a torrent down one of these slopes and collected in a catch pond next to a thatch-roofed lean-to with two large fieldstone chimneys. A small torrent exited this pond, wending its way toward the great hall, where it disappeared into a metal grate in the hall’s foundation. A path from the lean-to led over a narrow bridge of rough-sawn logs arching over the stream and farther down the defile, until it was lost among the
rocky outcroppings beyond. It seemed to be a some secret way down into the forests below: a back door.

Another door led below the tower area to a room hewn from bare rock , and a wooden stair led up along the walls to the north. Tables and workbenches filled the chamber, holding all manner of alembics, crucibles, burners, and assorted tools, as well as a large glass case set into a niche holding what appeared to be a humanoid body. A variety of dried herbs and plants dangled in profusion from hooks on the bottoms of the stairs, and sacks and chests holding additional equipment and components were shoved underneath the stairs. A torch mounted on one of the stair posts illuminated the chamber with a flickering glow. Suddenly, the body started to stir and rising jerkily to its feet, pressed its face against the thick glass.

“Letzzz…….me…..freezzzzz…..” slurred a flat voice in a strange monotone. Dinald and Ailukka looked at one another. Rasha noticed that several small lumps appeared to be moving under it’s skin, and he saw what looked like a large wasp crawl out of its mouth.

“Um….I think this may be in here for a reason” said Rasha. “Probably best if we leave it alone.”

Ignoring the tower stairs for now they made their way up to the balcony surrounding the main hall, but discovered only an armory and a storeroom containing piles of valuable furs and wool bales. Heading back to the tower stairs they climbed up to the first floor, and off a side landing noticed another room. Inside they could hear faint clattering and movement. Ungo stumbled and his axe clattered against the wall. There was more noise in the room as Eiravel opened the door and stepped back.

The chamber reeked of stale wine, rank sweat, and wild animal spoor. A rough bed sat at the far end, and a pot-belly stove rested between the windows, next to a coal bucket. Across from the stove was a small table holding several empty wineskins and a small oaken statuette.

Behind this stood a large man wielding a battleaxe, but even as they looked his features seemed to blur and twist into some large and ferocious hybrid of man and bear. Dinald gulped, remembering old wounds, as the thing snarled and lunged forward.

Ungo’s and Ragnar’s blades bit hard, but it was like cutting into an oak door. Swings of the creature’s axe caused deep wounds, though fortunately they managed to escape its slavering jaws.

Howling with frustration Ungo rolled around to the creatures side and as he rose swung C***slicer in towards the back of its knee; the stroke paid off as his axe bit deep, and he toppled to the ground. Bloody blows rained down. As they stood back panting it’s features transformed into those of a large, bearded man.

Moving quickly up to the topmost floor they entered an L shaped room surrounding two other doors. The night chill blew in through high windows open to the elements. A
fireplace stood aainst one wall, its ashes cold, next to a stack of firewood. A trap door with a wooden ladder leading to it opened in the ceiling to the southwest. Six light cots were spaced about the chamber, with a small footlocker next to each.

As they moved in three beaked and dark clad shapes materialised as if from nowhere, identical to those they had encountered on the wooden stair outside. Their blades stabbed into Eiravel and Dinald, all but cutting them down.

At the same time a beat of wings announced a number of ravens sweeping inwards through one of the open door- but also a much larger raven, three or four times the normal size. This had blood red tipped feather and perched on a high beam. With a strange gesture of one of its claws a gout of flame gushed down upon Rasha. Everyone rushed into the general melee.

Dinald was again beset by ravens, and this time some of their beaks bit home as he struggled to cover his eyes; he screamed as he fell to the floor.

Recognising the large raven as a Fey creature, Rasha gritted his teeth and fired his arrows at the creature, while Uksahkka engaged one of the dark clad figures with AIlukka, with Ungo and Rasha trying to dispose of the ravens. This they managed to do, in a difficult melee which involved the black clad figures seemingly disappearing and reappearing almost at will, and with deadly blades.

A lucky shot from Rasha struck deep into the Blood red Raven, and with a caw it flew off into the darkness. The combat focused on the dark assassins.

Eventually the fight was over, with Ungo, Eiravel and Dinald all down; the others were all somewhat wounded. With their much diminished stock of potions they managed to get everyone on their feet.

Investigating one of the smaller rooms revealed a sorry looking fellow, who had obviously not been fed for many days. Unfortunately this was not Ulf.

The man introduced himself as Lute Haggersly, and it seemed that he was a merchant recently elected to the Rimerunners Guild’s board of shareholders. He had the misfortune to vote against a measure proposed by Thorborg Silverskorr and then had the additional temerity to not be intimidated and bullied into capitulating. The net result was that he had been abducted from the road on a trip to some of the outlying villages around Kalsgard and was brought here, as he understood that he might be worth a sizable ransom at some point.

When asked about what he knew of Ravenscraeg’s inhabitants, Lute revealed that he had primarily been dealt with by a half troll sorcerer has called Goti Runecaster, who had tried out various noxious brews that he had concocted and threatened him with infestation by something called a hellwasp swarm. Jorgan the Axe had worked him over a few times as well.

Lute revealed that he had not been questioned and had no idea of his eventual fate. What he did know however was that the fortess was commanded by some sort of hideous purple ogre.

“What’s more the ogre is actually none other than Thorborg Silverskorr,” he said, “the leader of the Rimerunners Guild. She came here and then transformed into the ogre thing- just to scare me I suppose for a bit of fun. It worked I can tell you.”

This was interesting news, and they wondered if this was one of the Oni that the Seal had mentioned to them in their visions outside Brinewall.

Investigation of the roof space revealed yet more aggressive ravens, but little else. It seemed that they would need to investigate the sub level beneath the tower.

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A Few Things made Clear (18th November 4711)
18th November 4711

Uksahkka had been roughed up slightly, but was was otherwise none the worse for wear. She had overheard her captors speaking of transferring her to a place called Ravenscraeg, where Ulf Gormundr was also apparently being held.

The ledgers also proved interesting. There were many mundane business documents and financial records of the guild. These showed that a ship called the Aril’s Hammer had been rented to Asvig Longthews on the night of the attack at Skalsbridge, and also that he was contracted by the guild to “acquire a Tian antique” from a specific address recognizable as that of Fynn Snaevald’s house.

More importantly, the record showed financial transactions transferring large sums of money over the last few years (as well as the aforementioned “Tian antique”) to a location called Ravenscraeg. These “development expenses” were all personally approved by Thorborg Silverskorr.

“She’s the Guildmaster” said Uksahkka.

They also saw that the Rimerunners had purchased Ravenscraeg from Snorri Stone-Eye 3 years ago, and a great deal of money had been spent refurbishing it. .

It was clear that something very mysterious was going on at Ravenscraeg, and it was entirely possible that Suishen was located there.

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Thieves in the Night (18th November 4711)
18th November 4711

Breaking and entering was a bit of a specialist trade, and between them they knew they were lacking. In addition, Ungo was now comatose with drink and had been flung into his room.

“Sandru might be just the help we need” whispered Rasha, "And slipping a note to an urchin, they sent him off with a message. Outside the ravens were still standing guard.

An hour later a quiet figure slipped into the room, but it was not Sandru. Instead it was Eiravel ; the mysterious traveller they had rescued from the Priory at Cymer. Since her recovery she had been somewhat apprehensive at their entry into Ulfen lands, and she had kept a fairly low profile amidst the wagons. More than once Rasha had spotted her having a quiet talk with Sandru, and he more than half suspected that her tale about being a harmless traveller beset by wolves was less than a fraction of the truth about her.

“Sandru sent me” said Eiravel. “He said you might need assistance in getting into somewhere.”

Rasha nodded: it made sense. Likely she was on the run from the very places they had returned too. She wore a deep hood even now.

The Rimerunner’s main office and Guildhall was easy to find; predictably it was past business hours and the doors were locked. A light was on upstairs and Ragnar clambered up quietly to peek in through one of the few open shutters. For once they had managed to sneak out without alerting the ravens.

He looked into a dormitory with three unarmored men, some lounging on beds or playing dice. An armored man stood nearby, taking a swig of something: there were night guards then.

Climbing back down he rejoined his comrades. Eiravel fiddled with a lock for a few moments, and then opened the door into a public reception area, with another door leading north into a managers office, and another into a long corridor. They waited silently in the room while Eiravel opened the lock into the managers office, and then froze as she heard heavy footsteps coming down the stairs, and then in the corridor, testing doors as they went.

Hissing to the others the door into the managers office from the corridor, and another from the reception area were opened at the same time.

The two guards were armed and well armored, but completely surprised. A hail of blows quickly downed them before they could react, and they were dragged into the reception area.

Eiravel had opened a closet in the managers office, and was staring curiously up at the ceiling.

“There’s a trapdoor” she said.

Climbing up, Ragnar realised that they had stumbled across a secure storeroom. He stood in a small room on the second floor replete with storage boxes-but no actual doorways. He helped Eiravel up and she started to open boxes and rummage.

In a side room Rasha found Uksahkka, bound and tied in what appeared to be a guest room. Shortly after Eiravel emerged down carrying a couple of bulky ledgers.

“I think what we need is in here” she said.

“Right, let’s just go. No need to bother the guards upstairs.” said Rasha.

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The Temple of Shaelyn (18th November 4711)
18th November 4711

Back at their inn they had washed and changed, having agreed to meet Uksahkka at around eight that evening. They had little clue as to whom their back clad assailants had been, as they had been forced to abandon the burning vessel in fear of their lives, and the uproar from the funeral party on the shoreline. They had made themselves scarce, very, very quickly.

Rasha glanced outside again. There seemed to be an awful lt of ravens about, and he had a suspicious mind. No longer covered in soot, smoke or blood, the group made their way towards the Fire Quarter and the Temple of Shaelyn. Uksahkka had given them a small clay statuette of the Goddess, and told them to present it to the priest Yin-Po who could be trusted.

However, as they approached the crisp night air was suddenly pierced by the sounds of screams and the crashing of tumbling masonry. Dust and rocks blossomed over the heads of passers by, and the screams increased in intensity and volume. Drawing steel they rushed forward.

Ahead, above the press, the shrine of Shelyn slowly swayed and then collapsed into the street, dumping its facade of stone and mortared brick on those unfortunates below, resulting in another wave of screams of pain and fear.

As they drew near the shrine, they saw a large figure composed of rocks and dirt pounding away at the building and quickly reducing sections of it it to rubble. An elderly Tian priest lay injured on the street nearby.

“More Ravens” thought Rasha. And did one of them look larger and have red tips on its wings?

“Iss Elemental” said Ailukka, “Powerful spell.” And then she started casting and a ripple of frozen air steaked towards the thing, coating one shoulder in rime ice and staggering it momentarily.

“Yewarrrrrrrr!” screamed Ungo, by now very drunk, rushing at the thing with C***slicer. Ragnar followed with his blade, and then was swept aside like a rag doll by a slap from one of the creature’s hands. Rasha put his sword way and pulled out his bow nervously. Dinald drew the Poker, which failed to poke effectively.

As Ailukka pumped spells at the thing, Ragnar and Ungo tried to land blows without getting flattened. The creature was almost nine feet tall, and its fists hit like an avalanche. Both Ungo and Ragnar were in poor shape, but the creature too seemed in some way to be losing its integrity as bits of it fell off. A final swing from Ragnar and the thing final collapsed in on itself, leaving a cloud of dust, and a pile of sand and rubble in the courtyard.

Dinald helped the elderly priest to his feet, who started jabbering in Tien. Ailukka moved over to help Dinald calm him down, and showed him the clay figure.

Meanwhile Rasha was looking around, keeping a wary eye on the ravens which were even now watching them. Stooping down he picked up a a large black feather-much too large for a raven; too large even for the blood tipped larger bird he had glimpsed. Twirling it in his and he walked over to the others.

The old priest saw the feather and his eyes widened.

“Very bad! Very bad!” He hook his head looking frightened. Motioning them forwards he ushered them through the rubble to an alley behind the shrine. He led them to a secret door to a hidden cellar where Uksahkka was hiding, but the door had been battered
down and Uksahkka was nowhere to be found.

“The elemental was a distraction” said Rasha. “Someone’s kidnapped her.”

“Look here” said Dinald reaching down. He picked up a small dart. of the sort fired from a blowgun.

“An assassin’s weapon” said Ragnar.

“What do you know about the feather old man?” asked Ailukka in Tien. “No time to lose: speak swiftly.”

“Frozen Shadow. Very Bad.” said the old man, looking frightened.

“And……..?”

“I am priest for many of Tian community. I hear many things. I hear of Frozen Shadows in last two, three years” said the old man hesitantly.

“Frozen shadows are….I not know word….Killers for hire. Members rumored to have magic powers and to move unseen. Sometimes they leave big black feather as calling card.”

“Still not much to go on” said Rasha glumly, “An assassin’s guild won’t have a shop in the high street.”

“What about the big blood red tipped raven?” asked Dinald. “Know anything about that old man?”

“Is very bad look in Kalsgard” said the Priest. Then he paused.

“But I know of one. Is said to be familiar of Goti Runecaster-a magician of the Rimerunners Guild.”

“Hmm the Rimerunner’s Guild again” said Dinald. “Their name seems to keep cropping up.”

“They specialise in trade across the Roof of the World as well” said Ragnar, “Could be more than coincidence. Maybe we should pay them a visit.”

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Not Dead but Resting (18th November 4711)
18th November 4711

The poor weather had postponed Snorri’s funeral till nightfall, which was fortunate for Dinald and his friends. As dusk approached Uksahkka quietly steered a small boat downstream on the riverward side, toward the funeral ship, which was anchored some way out in the stream to keep away the gawpers. Theiir approach was well hidden by the mist and gathering gloom.

As they clambered aboard they noticed that the deck of the longship had been built up with planks over the old rowing benches, creating a space below decks. It appeared that the funerary treasures had been placed in this hold, as the deck was empty save for a silent, shrouded form resting atop a bier in front of the mast, surrounded by wood. A leather sack sat atop small pile of sand at the base of the bier, the glow of flame and wisps of smoke escaping from it.

A hatch at the bow of the ship led to the hold beneath the deck and was nailed shut. As Ragnar set to work Dinald examined the pyre, and saw that the bier was soaked with oil. He pulled the shroud back out of curiosity, but instead of a corpse saw only a wooden manikin.

“Odd” he thought, “Maybe the corpse is stowed below”

A pile pile of sand on the deck was hollowed out and held an urn of oil within it. A leather bag containing burning coals had been placed over the top of the urn to act as a delayed timer for the fire. As soon as the coals burned through the leather bag, they would land in the oil, igniting both it and the bier. He gulped.

“It’s open” said Ragnar, “And I think I heard chains down there.”

Climbing down revealed a cramped space with a 4-foot-high ceiling, occupied by rowing benches and bulky stacked funerary treasures.

“Ulf are you there?” called Ragnar, “We’ve been sent by Uksahkka to rescue you.” As the group moved aft behind the mast Dinald rummaged unsuccessfully for anything that looked like an expensive sword. Peering ahead in the darkness Ragnar made out a dim shape ahead.

“Ulf?” he called.

It was not Ulf, it was a shape out of nightmare. A gray corpse like face lurched forward. one eye back and the other glowing with a green balefire. Talons gripped a massive greataxe. Although chained to the mast the undead thing had sufficient reach to strike at Ragnar, catching a glancing blow but sending a chill through his body as though he had been numbed with ice. With horror Ragnar remembered the thing they had fought within the basement of Brinewall Castle.

His form dripping with reeking seawater, the undead form of Snorri One Eye snarled and gurgled as though from a throat drowning and rotten. A wasting disease indeed.

Behind Ragnar spells and arrows shot forward, and Ungo ran froward with C***slicer. Snorri’s axe dipped and fell, dealing deathlike blows which seemed to pull at the strings of their very souls. In the cramped space it was hard to overwhelm the fell creature.

Eventually, fall it did. A swing from Ungo’s axe, recently enchanted by Raine, finally knocked a leg from under it. The creature was hacked to pieces.

“No wonder the ship was moored away from land” said Rasha, " I assume Snorri’s kinsmen wanted to keep all this secret and send him down with his ship, as it were."

He grimaced in distaste as Ailukka pulled Snorri’s dark stone eye from it’s socket, a puzzled look on her face.

There was sign of neither Suishen nor Ulf below decks-only a very bulky sort of treasure in terms of furniture and household goods. Ungo licked his lips as he eyed up a rolled Katapeshian Rug, and gestured to Ragnar to give him a hand with it to the deck above.

As they fumbled back up through the hatch they suddenly realised they were not alone. Rasha started to shout but not before half a dozen arrows form crouching shapes around the rails pierced Ungo’s and his own armor. Silently the shapes reloaded and fired again, and this time the deck around the bier burst into flames.

“I really don’t like boats” thought Rasha.

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