Fionnghal was excited as Don’ awoke. The fey-touched dog reaching into Don’s thoughts said, “Close tower. We moving.”
Don’ knew that meant they had to be ready in case this lone person was hostile. Fionnghal didn’t have the smarts to figure that out but given this person was feeding the dog scraps of meat and offal that he’d hunted he at least had a soft spot for stray animals.
They prepared an ambush at the top of the cut-stone stairs which led up the rocky butte to the stable’s area. Don’ gathered a few heavy rocks and Kallista was surprised at the doughty lad’s strength. They waited, looking, whilst Felghanis scratched away on some salvaged parchment.
His writing was a little poor from long days of not handling a pen but Felghanis managed to assemble a lot of his notes from the lost journal in a tight small script. His Uncle might even be watching, now. Felghanis recalled his experience after being struck by the lightning trap. He hadn’t shared what he saw; his near-death experience, but it still haunted him.
The amethyst column thrummed with mana. It had a sliver of what it could potentially hold and that felt like enough energy to raise a mountain. The others were stuck in the passage fighitng the steel dog, but the column kept drawing Fel’s attention. What was it about this incredible thing that kept pulling him back?
The sounds drifted away as he began to see something within the faint purple glow. An image; there but not. In two places and neither of those places was really in the column. An arc and a dome, and a rim around the bottom… it was the bell of Thulemon.
“Oh my god,” Fel cried out and rushed forward.
There was a thunderous crack and then, nothing.
“Felghanis?” Uncle asked, surprised and annoyed. “What are you doing here?”
The room was so dark he could barely be sure he was there and Fel struggled to make out anything.
“We weren’t meant to meet again like this, nephew. You need to go back.” Uncle sounded disappointed and a bit angry.
“Go back? Where? Where am I?”
“Just go back Felghanis.” To Fel’ it sounded like Uncle was very annoyed. Like something he had hoped he could put off was now a pressing urgency.
“But where? How?”
“Can’t you feel them calling for you?”
“No! Who’s calling me?”
“Your friends. They are bringing you back. Go to them. We’ll meet again later.”
“But how? What’s happening? What have you got to do with the bell?”
“Go back Felghanis. The bell is outside of even the Saint’s reach. Rejoin your friends.”
Fel’s breath rasped in his chest and if he was conscious there would have been great pain. He rested and was given care by his friends. Kallista fussed over him and tended his wounds. By morning Fel was well enough to stand and help forage for food, but he bore the scars of the lightning bolt that killed him – burns and stitch-marks over the left side of his torso and up his neck. It did kill him because the phylactery was gone. Nothing left of it but some black ash.
Absently, Felghanis scratched a message on the parchment, “Uncle, if you can see this message, send me a sign?” It was a long shot but worth taking, Felghanis felt.
“I see him,” Don’ called out.
The figure seemed to just appear at the base of the rocky butte atop which perched the Iron Tower. Fionnghal broke from trotting along in the man’s shadow and sprinted up the stairs. Happy little whimpers escaping as he rushed back to Don’. Much happy licking from the dog and pats and ear rubs from Don’ as they were reunited after weeks.
The man who approached looked tanned and rangy. He was dressed in ragged bone-scale armor and wore his hair long. Carrying some spears and a longspear he gave the impression he was a hunter in his element.
“State your purpose,” Don’ yelled out.
“Let us meet, face-to-face, and talk. I don’t yell out to shadows,” he said without breaking his stride.
The whole party stood to face the newcomer. Weapons were held in their scabbards, or points upward, in uneasy tension.
“I seek an end to spring and the Old Mountain has said this is the first place to look,” Herath, the hunter said after they realised there was no enmity or deception happening.
“We’ve been through the whole place and found that the winter is some books of Fimbulwinter. There is meant to be one in Kentos’ Barrow, to the east, near the mouth of the Greywynd River,” Felghanis said.
“Then it’s true what Old Mountain said,” Herath growled. Then he launched into a rhyme.
Iron mount once held bell of the dead
Where giant-slayer rests his head
Lost titans wait for ice’s return
The tree and tear must surely burn
Or spring’s last breath will pass us by
Find the way while the chance is nigh
“The titans are returning? Oh that’s just great,” Felghanis crowed. “Now who is Fenris working for: the Hrimpursar, or the Church?”
“Or someone else?” Don’ asked.
“Who is Fenris and why are you so afraid of him?” Herath asked bluntly.
They retold their story to this point, the trip on the stone ship, everything. Herath listened carefully and never interrupted. “What kind of power is that?” he asked once they were done.
“Birthright, ordained, or some kind of pact,” Felghanis said miserably. Then his tone lifted, “If we are to travel together we should start now.”
They agreed and continued on their journey, chatting and sharing information as they walked.
Rocky beach the color of dark clay led them east. The forest was thick once back from the high-water mark, and high enough that the tree-roots weren’t exposed to salt water. It was the Greywynd Forest according to Fel’s map and they kept looking for signs of Garren. Those territorial markers of skulls pinned to trees by long arrows. They didn’t see any and that made them nervous.
Picking up the trail of a bison herd the party moved into the forest. The bison were down from the high plains to find food in the harshest winter for decades and the party needed meat. The hunt was quick with Fionnghal’s fey power, Entangle, launching roots out of the ground to seize three bison. One escaped and the party only slew one more. They would have more meat than they could carry otherwise.
Don’ and Herath had barely finished packing the meat when everyone became aware of the smell of wood-smoke. They looked about and a pall was rising to the north. Disturbed they returned to the beach, which was frozen firm, and trekked north towards the smoke. As they closed on the source of the pall a pinned ogre skull was spotted and they sought cover.
It was Aenir who suggested they prowl forwards to see what was going on. Herath joined him and the dwarf surprised the tribal hunter with his stealthy movements. Felghanis made it moot as he rustled and grunted along after them. They came to a small creek, frozen over, and it seemed to be a border for the burning settlement. Humpbacked structures had mostly burned to the ground.
Bodies of Garren littered the spaces between. Hacked and left sprawled in dark stains of blood in the snow. Among the tall wiry Garren were some thickset goblinoids with dark skin: Hobgoblins.
“We’ll find their camp and kill’em all,” Aenir said with a snarl.
Herath spotted something moving. Like a hemisphere of darkness it glided through the village and away from the men laying on their bellies in the snow.
“There,” Herath whispered, pointing it out.
“Blakh,” Aenir said, shaking his head.
They returned to the others to report.
Felghanis led the argument to go into town for survivors and Kallista quickly jumped on board. They gathered together and entered the town. So many dead. Even the giant beetles the Garren kept as livestock had been slain in their pens. Just speared, until they bled out, by the merciless hob’s.
Finally they found a survivor but it was one of the hob’s, barely alive.
It was Kellor who hefted the large creature on to his back and carried it back. He wasn’t gentle but neither did he try to injure the hob and push it over the abyss’ edge.
Back at camp Kallista saw to its wounds and by morning it was awake. They interrogated it, dismissing Felghanis’ overtones of using torture, and found out that there were two camps, with three Blakh between them. The Hob’s and the Blakh had been in the woods for three days and this was the second village of Garren they had razed.
“It is orders, for the glory of our people,” the Hob, Breakfinger, answered.
Bound tightly but kept warm the Hob was left laying on the ground while the party planned their next moves. As the day drew to a close and camp was established they were in good spirits. The weather had been clear and the sun warm on their faces. Greywynd Woods were no longer a dark threat that hid Garren behind every bole.
The next morning they travelled on and the dwarves insisted that Breakfinger carry all the meat Felghanis had preserved. With lots of food available they spent the day walking and gathering firewood, whilst keeping Breakfinger in their sights.
The day after that Breakfinger started making a fuss and nodding ahead. Slipping his gag down they heard him say, “The camp is ahead at the river mouth.”
Wisely Felghanis asked the hob to draw a map. It held up its bound hands and when let loose it drew a crude map in the sand with a stick Fionnghal had been idly chewing. Four tents on the edge of the river mouth with three trenches. Guards picketed in pairs, too. The camp looked well defensible and the party had Breakfinger lead them around it – a mile out to avoid the patrols which the Hob’ said were to half a mile. It worked.
They made it to the river which was frozen over in a thick sheet ice. Herath tested the ice and pronounced it safe to cross. Once over the river it dawned on them how can they find a barrow in a forest.
“I recall the Codger saying they used to plant trees of certain types on top of barrows. Not sure which types, though. Usually thought to be protective,” Kallista said.
“We need a view,” Don’ said.
Herath found a tall tree and asked for a rope. He used it to scale the giant fir and once high in its branches he could see the distant Hobgoblin camp. The two figures of the guards he could just make out right where Breakfinger said they’d be. To the west he could see a long barrow. The trees on top of it were giants and darker, and more dense, of needle than the surrounding fir and birch.
“I’ve seen it,” Herath said once back on the ground.
Everyone was nervous about revealing anything more in front of Breakfinger. They whispered and decided to let the Hob’ go free, here. Breakfinger backed off about 20 yards then ran for his life. He was out of their sight and ear-shot within seconds. The party was still for a few heartbeats.
“Alright. Let’s go and I’ll cover our tracks,” Don’ said.
They did a sterling job and before much time had passed Herath led them to the barrow. It was long, some 100 feet or more and five giant silk yew trees had grown over the mound. Their massive roots could be seen, thick as a man’s leg, over the side of the barrow. At the southern end a mossy slab of stone was mostly concealed by roots and shade.
“Looks like the door,” Kellor said and strode towards it.
Kallista brushed the moss of the slab revealing a worn carving of a figure carrying a long spear in old-fashioned mail armor.
Don’ took his crowbar from the pack and started to pry at the door but couldn’t make it budge.
“Here, lad, let me,” Kellor took the crowbar from the young man and worked the slab loose. “Grab it here and pull.”
Together they opened the slab. A gasp of air rushed in then a small puff of dust escaped. The darkness inside had the party staring for a brief moment in total stillness.
Kallista said firmly, “Lux!” The top of her staff burst into white light and they entered, Don leading.
As soon as Don’s foot fell across the threshold an inky form seeped out of stone-slab sarcophagus at the end of the small chamber. It began to form a figure, just like the small statue on top of the casket.
“What-for you enter the tomb of Lord Kentos, giant-slayer, servant of Davinus?”
Don’ took to one knee almost instantly in a sign of humble respect. “We seek the return of Spring, and the book of Fimbulwinter we believe will aid us in that.”
The form, now almost solid, in a long chain hauberk, carried a bone white sword that seemed flecked with ice-crystals. It levelled the blade at Don’. “You may enter but touch nothing save the book.” It warned. Then it faded away back into the rough stone casket.
There was little to say. Felghanis had studied the apparition with Detect Undead and it was strong; at least the match of any two of them, possibly more so. Pressing inwards the great roots seemed to cling to the walls, adding strength to the structure. They passed two more stone-slab sarcophagi and standing in them, through the stone, were two more apparitions of what must have been Kentos’ shouldermen. Each warned the party, levelling one of the bone swords at them, and let them pass.
The final chamber was larger than the others. A tall stone column split the entrance and was carved with runes. Felghanis took a rubbing and as he did managed to translate a phrase that was repeated a few times in the passage.
“Three deer?” he asked aloud.
“That matches the seerwoman’s vision,” Kallista said excitedly. The fact she was in a tomb of active spirits seemingly dismissed.
Beyond the column a great spear, glowing with magic, was lain across a large ornate stone casket. It lit the room well. Behind the casket, in an alcove of stone, a tall statue depicted a fierce warrior some seven and a half feet tall. On his hip was a satchel, part of the carving of stone, holding a large leather bound book.
“That must be it,” Felghanis hissed.
Don’ and Fel started whispering on how to beseech the spirit of Kentos for the book when Fel suddenly inspired dropped to one knee, hands outstretched.
“Lord Kentos. We seek the book of Fimbulwinter to find out how to stop it from taking over our lands. To bring back Spring, and prevent the return of the Hrimpursar.”
His words had barely finished reverberating from the stone when the clash of steel echoed from the entrance to the barrow. A battle had started and they were already in a tomb.