The Boundary Lands

Chapter 12 - On the Northern Ice Sheet (s. 29)

12.2 Cold Choices

The party picks through the ice trolls’ belongings but is disappointed to find very little. The trolls were only carrying several empty sacks, and the party presumes the creatures had entered the small temple community with plans to gather up loot. The Zaza, a studied expert in creatures and monsters of the natural world, knows a little about the tribal structure of trolls. She speaks up to say, “That battle was brutal, but the good news is if these ice trolls were entitled to come through the town for the first pick at treasure, they would have to be the strongest and best of the trolls’ tribe. If we encounter anymore of these creatures, they shouldn’t be nearly as much of a threat.”

The rest of the party nods their appreciation at the news, as the battle drained most of their resources and they still only barely survived. They debate what to do next, discussing trying to track where the ice trolls came from, exploring the rest of the village, or resting for the night to recover their strength. The party is concerned that if the ice trolls’ tribe is nearby, scouts might be sent into the town when the band the party killed doesn’t return. However, Erik suggests that if they really did encounter the tribe’s strongest warriors, they’ll probably be safe – other trolls would doubt that their best warriors would encounter something they couldn’t handle, and would be wary of entering the town and looking like they’re trying to take a share of the spoils that are meant for the stronger warriors. In their current state, the party agrees that inviting more danger could be a lethal decision, so they head back into the ground floor of the temple of Boccob and set up camp for the night.

An Attempt at Parlay

The party is certain to keep a careful watch, and, despite Erik’s reasoning, in the middle of the night two ice trolls venture into the small village. The party prepares for battle as the trolls slowly amble down the main street of the town. Erik and Invicto begin preparing spells to launch through the ground-floor windows of the temple. As The Zaza buckles on her last piece of plate armor, Aramil tires of waiting and charges out the front of the temple towards the creatures.

The ice trolls see only the lone warrior running towards them, and call out to him, “Where are your friends?”

Aramil slows his charge as he gets nearer to the trolls, realizing this might be a good opportunity for parlay. The eladrin comes to a halt and calls back threateningly, “You should know I killed your war party.” Back in the temple, The Zaza hesitates before bursting out of the doorway, giving Aramil a chance to talk with the monsters before battle begins.

The two trolls share a quizzical look. The lead ice troll turns back to Aramil, “So, the deal is off? Leoan has declared war on the trolls?”

The other ice troll steps forward menacingly, “Stupid humans, why would you start a fight with our tribe while Leoan is in the Father of Winter’s domain?”

Aramil’s insights fail him, and he doesn’t read the implications of the ice troll’s question correctly. The eladrin calls out defiantly, “I do not fear Leoan!”

The trolls glance at each other again, both sporting very confused looks now. The lead ice troll turns back to Aramil and asks with an air of suspicion, “Why would you fear your own leader?”

The warlord sees now that he has misread the situation and his story isn’t making much sense anymore. Seeing bloodshed is inevitable Aramil raises his longsword and charges to battle. The ice trolls engage him eagerly, though their eagerness quickly fades as the rest of the party bursts out of the temple of Boccob. The two lonely ice trolls are vastly outmatched by the party and soon only one troll is left standing, near death. Invicto utters an Infernal Moon Curse on the creature, but, at the last second, the warlock pulls back on the eldritch energy he channels into the spell, leaving the ice troll barely clinging to life and suspended five feet off the ground. The ice troll cries in pain and flails helplessly in mid-air, already having been set on fire from one of Erik’s spells earlier.

As flames crackle across its body, the party quickly interrogates the monster. Aramil asks, “Who is Leoan?”

The ice trolls grits its teeth and mutters a strained response, “Aren’t you part of his cult?”

“What cult?” Invicto asks.

“The cult of…” the troll seems to search for a moment trying to fight through the excruciating pain of the flames to remember an answer to the party’s question. “The cult of Mortalis he calls it.”

“So, you know Lord Dread?” Aramil asks.

“No,” the troll responds. “I’ve never heard of him. Now, please, put me down. Put out the flames!” The party can tell the troll will soon be dead if they don’t douse the fire. Invicto and Erik nod to each other. With a wave of their hands, the troll sinks to the ground and the flames vanish. The ice troll’s charred, smoking body emits a foul smell as the creature writhes on the icy ground in agony.

Erik calls out, “What did you want from here?”

In between gasping breaths of pain, the ice troll gets out, “Leoan made a deal with our tribe. We attack the town and take their precious artifacts. We keep most of the treasure, and eat all the human flesh we want.”

Feeling they’ve gotten all the information they need, Erik utters a quick arcane phrase and magical fire explodes around the ice troll. It is more than the creature can take, and the party watches it burn to ash. Aramil is surprised by Erik’s callousness. The warlord can’t justify killing a surrendered combatant in cold blood. The rules of war should apply no matter what race or species your enemy is. The Zaza assures the eladrin that trolls are relentless killing machines, and it is a part of the natural order that anyone who respects the value of life should slay them on sight. Erik notes that if the creature was set free it undoubtedly would have killed untold more innocents. Invicto shrugs, not understanding what the debate is about – they got what they needed from the prisoner, and didn’t need him anymore, so he dies. Aramil accepts the party’s reasoning (at least, The Zaza’s and Erik’s), but is still a little unsettled by the incident.

The party briefly discusses the new information they gained from this incident. They feel the larger picture is starting to come together for them. Clearly the Cult of Mortalis is in league with this massive undead army, and the entire evil force is likely being raised and led by Lord Dread with the dark artifact, the Keystone Mortalis. Apparently the collection of rare religious artifacts held in this small temple community was a threat to the undead forces, and some cult members, led by this Leoan, were dispatched to obtain them. The party sleeps through the rest of the night undisturbed and rises the next morning to investigate the situation further.

Inside Job

The party decides the first order of business is to thoroughly explore the small temple community. There are seven temples that make up the small village, representing a variety of deities. The party finds that several of the temples are divided into separate sections dedicated to different deities. One temple includes a section dedicated to the sun god, Pelor, along with a temple to the god of nature, Melora. The Zaza is appalled that Melora only received a small section of a larger temple dedicated to her, and the dragonborn insists that if the community is repopulated, the temple to Melora will have to be renovated and expanded.

Throughout all of the temples, the party finds numerous corpses strewn about where the residents were slain by the trolls’ vicious attack. Interestingly, the party notes that most of the battles seem to have been fought well inside the temple structures, not out on the streets of the village as they would expect. The party assumes that a large tribe of ice trolls approaching the village would raise an alarm, and battle would be met in the streets of the village, or at least in the entrances to the temples. Instead, the party finds a disturbingly high number of priests cut down near their bedchambers, and even find some bodies still lying in their beds, clearly slain in their sleep.

There is no wall built to encircle the village, but there are four tall watchtowers built near some of the mountain passes approaching the small community. Checking inside of them, the party finds two that are empty, and the remaining two each have the corpse of a slain priest in them. However, unlike the brutally ravaged corpses they found in the village, these corpses each appear to have been killed much more discretely. Each sports a small knife wound near their ribs, where a blade must have been stealthily slipped in. Clearly these priests were slain by an incredibly silent assassin or they were approached by someone they knew and trusted and were taken by surprise.

Given the evidence in the watchtowers, and where the battles were fought, the party presumes the small community was betrayed by some of their own members. Priests within the village, likely members of the Cult of Mortalis, eliminated the guards on the watchtowers and let the trolls creep into the temples in the middle of the night. Many of the priests fought valiantly, and the party finds a number of ice troll corpses within the temples as well. But, with the element of surprise on the side of the trolls, the small religious community clearly never had a chance.

There is one temple where the party finds no corpses. In a structure paying homage to the dark gods, Hextor, Tiamat, and Vecna, the party finds that no battles were fought in the section dedicated to Vecna. According to Lock’s history of the Keystone Mortalis, the dark artifact was corrupted by a high priest of Vecna. Given that, the party has little doubt as to which temple the traitorous members of the Cult of Mortalis belonged to. Erik takes the time to desecrate the temple of Vecna, overturning altars and setting furnishings aflame.

Missing Pieces

The party scours the village for the supposed stash of rare religious artifacts the Cult of Mortalis was seeking. Unfortunately, it seems the artifacts have already been plundered. Spread throughout the town, the party finds a number of empty altars, smashed ornate boxes, empty shelves that look to have once held valuable tomes and scrolls, and other indications that any prized, valuable objects in the village have already been taken. The party would presume the artifacts and numerous texts associated with them represented a large haul, and the ice trolls took a full load with them when they first plundered the village.

The band of trolls the party encountered returning to town last night was apparently carrying a collection of sacks to start packing up the more mundane treasure the religious community had. The party finds that the ice trolls were so concerned with rounding up all of the religious artifacts in the town with their first load of goods, that they didn’t even grab any gold or coinage. Roughly 10,000 gold pieces of currency are left in the town for the party to gather up for themselves.

Searching through the temples, the party also finds no survivors from the battle – at least not in the town. Judging by the number of bedchambers they come across in all of the temples, the party would guess that the community housed roughly fifty residents. However, they only come across somewhere around thirty corpses. The party suspects close to twenty members of the community might have managed to escape, but they have no idea where they would have gone.

The Zaza and Aramil head to the edge of the village and begin scouring the area for tracks, hoping to pick up the trail of any survivors that made it out of town. Unfortunately, they only find the tracks of the trolls that headed into the town the previous night. No fresh snow has fallen, so the huge, lumbering creatures’ deep footprints are clearly visible in the snow. They propose the party follows the tracks, but Erik and Invicto seem very uninterested in this idea.

Erik speaks up to say, “What did we come here for? To answer a call for help from the town, to help defend it. It’s clearly too late for that now, so our mission is done. I want to get home, and I don’t see how following troll tracks in the snow is going to get me any closer.”

Aramil responds, “Yes, but if the Cult of Mortalis was so interested in this collection of religious artifacts, they clearly must be a threat to them. We’ve got to try to retrieve these artifacts to help fight back against the undead army.”

Erik replies simply, “If you want to follow the tracks, go ahead. I’m staying here to investigate how we can get home.” Aramil and The Zaza shrug, and accept Erik’s decision. The two armored warriors trudge off into the mountain passes surrounding the town, following the troll’s tracks through the snow.

Waking the Dead, Again

Erik and Invicto stay behind and debate what avenue to explore next. They both decide another Speak with Dead ritual could be of use. They head back to the temple of Boccob and look for a corpse wearing the vestments of a high-priest of Boccob, as the corpses near the teleportation circle appear to only be young acolytes.

Near the bedchambers in the temple, they find the body of a gnome clothed in heavy robes richly decorated with the symbol of Boccob. After Erik carefully performs the steps of the ritual, the gnome’s corpse opens its eyes and stares lifelessly at the wizard. Erik asks, “How do I fix the teleportation circle?”

A hollow voice replies, “Larath is the priestess assigned to maintain and preserve the teleportation circle.”

Erik asks, “What does Larath look like?”

The corpse does its best to describe the woman, “She is a very tall eladrin, with long brown hair worn in braids. Thin, narrow eyes and high cheekbones.”

With one final question, Erik wonders if there is some kind of secret passage out of the town that the party failed to discover. Perhaps such a passage was used by the twenty missing survivors. He queries the gnome, “How would people escape the city in the event of an attack, besides the teleportation circle?”

The corpse answers plainly, “They would not.”

This seems to narrow down the options for leaving the town. The temple community is truly isolated in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by virtually impassable mountains, with no apparent way out, other than the teleportation circle. Erik and Invicto now suspect that some residents may have escaped through the teleportation circle before it was marked up.

Either way, the wizard and the warlock agree that finding Larath is the top priority now. If they can locate her corpse and use the Speak with Dead ritual on her, they might be able to find out how to fix the teleportation circle. They scour the town thoroughly, inspecting every corpse they can find. Unfortunately, none match the description the gnome gave. Apparently they will have to find out what truly became of the twenty residents still unaccounted for. If they did escape through the teleportation circle, this leaves the party little hope of finding a way home.

Aramil Joins a Cult

Following the tracks of the ice trolls, The Zaza and Aramil trudge through the rough, mountainous terrain for an hour or so, when The Zaza suddenly spots something up ahead. The armored duo is not skilled in stealth at all, but fortunately the dragonborn’s keen eyes seem to have picked out some figures in the distance before they were noticed. The paladin drags Aramil down behind a snow bank and tells the eladrin that she spotted four gray-robed figures up ahead. They appeared to be standing outside the entrance to a cave opening into a glacier of ice.

They decide some investigation is in order, so Aramil dons the Hat of Disguise. Wondering if this group is part of the missing twenty residents from the temple community, Aramil decides to disguise himself as the elven acolyte the party first used the Speak with Dead ritual on. Unfortunately, even though the party did have a conversation with the elf’s corpse, Aramil’s memory isn’t too accurate, and he doesn’t look much like the elven priest at all. The Zaza tries to give Aramil some advice on perfecting his disguise, but her memory is none too impressive as well, and Aramil still looks nothing like the elven acolyte. Of course, Aramil and The Zaza don’t realize this, and they are pretty pleased with the disguise. So, Aramil steps confidently out from behind the snow bank and approaches the gray-robed figures.

The four figures appear to be human and are currently embroiled in a heated discussion. When they see Aramil approaching, they fall silent and turn towards him. As he gets closer, Aramil quickly realizes that disguising himself as a priest from the temple community might not have been the best choice (fortunately, this isn’t a concern since his disguise missed the mark by a wide margin).

The eladrin can see that the four figures have a design of a skull mask emblazoned on the front of their robes. He recognizes it as the symbol of the god Vecna, though the symbol is strangely set over the face of a black stone statuette of a man. Vecna, the god of secrets and undeath, was behind the corruption of the Keystone Mortalis into the artifact of undead power that it is now. Aramil suspects this group must be the traitorous priests from the village responsible for the trolls’ attack, and also must be members of the Cult of Mortalis.

Aramil approaches the group, hoping that the cultists don’t recognize his disguise as someone from the temple community. The eladrin takes a shot in the dark and asks, “Are you followers of Leoan?”

The four men share an amused look, and one turns back to Aramil, saying with a smirk, “I guess you could say that. And who are you?”

Aramil’s insights don’t fail him this time. He can tell the cultists are suspicious of him now, and don’t seem to believe that he has any idea who Leoan is. The eladrin realizes the situation could fast be slipping away from him and decides he needs to make a bold move to get things under control. He needs a good lie that will put him on the side of these cultists. Knowing that supreme confidence can cover the holes in any story, Aramil responds to the group’s amused expressions with an icy, evil glare. The eladrin reaches deep within himself and addresses the group in the most intimidating, sinister voice he can summon.

“Who I am is a member of the Cult of Mortalis, and a follower of Lord Dread. I am planning an assault on the Quinalyn city of Arastur, and I need to speak to Leoan.” Aramil impresses even himself with his performance. The grins are instantly wiped off the cultists’ faces, and the eladrin can tell they have felt the weight behind his words.

The cultist who addressed him earlier responds, “Well, then you should know that I am Leoan. It is good to meet you, brother.”

Aramil nods. “I am interested in using the teleportation circle in the village to enter Arastur in an attack on the city.”

Leoan replies, “I believe the circle does connect to Arastur, but to a mage tower there. There will be numerous people on the other end at all times. I don’t think you could just fight your way out.”

Aramil fixes a steely gaze on Leoan and calmly states, “One wizard who is powerful enough can take out any guards the tower has to offer.”

Leoan’s eyes widen, “Confident aren’t you? How did you get here, by the way? We were sure to mark up the teleportation circle to keep it from functioning.”

Aramil replies simply, “That is none of your concern. I only need to know if one of you can repair the circle.”

Leoan shrugs, “I am sorry, none of us are familiar with the circle in town. We only know how to craft the circle to return to the master’s castle.”

Aramil is careful not to show his disappointment on his face. The party’s every attempt to get home seems to keep running into dead ends. The eladrin pushes the issue aside for now. “What are you doing here?”

Leoan gestures to the entrance to the icy cave standing behind him, “We are having some difficulty with the ice trolls. Their leader, an ice shaman, is being troublesome about handing over the artifacts he agreed to. It’s no matter, though. We will get things resolved, eventually. For now, as long as the artifacts are in the hands of the trolls, the civilized lands cannot use them against our armies.” Aramil nods approvingly as Leoan continues. “You are welcome to wait for us in the village until we get this matter resolved. You can return to the master’s castle with us once we’ve concluded our business with the trolls.”

Aramil says, “Very well,” and turns to leave.

Leoan offers, “Farewell, brother, we will see you again soon.”

Aramil meets up with The Zaza, still crouched behind a snow bank in the distance, and the two are careful to keep the steep mountainous terrain between themselves and the cultists until they are well out of sight.

Waking the Dead, Yet Again

Aramil and The Zaza return to town, and meet up with Erik and Invicto. The party members share what they discovered in their time apart. With the new information, the party is none too excited about their options. They still aren’t sure where Larath or the other missing residents are, and fear they may have already disappeared through the teleportation circle. If not, they have no other leads to possibly follow up on to find them. Other than that, their only option for getting home is Leoan’s offer to bring Aramil (disguised as an elven acolyte) back to the “master’s castle”, which might not be the safest destination. Even if they wanted to go there, the party has no idea how Aramil would explain to Leoan that the other party members need to come along, as when he met Leoan he made no mention of having an ‘entourage’ with him.

Erik, in particular, is growing frustrated with the party’s inability to get home. When the party suggests using the Speak with Dead ritual yet again to try to find out where Larath might be, the wizard demands that the rest of the party chip in gold to pay for the expensive arcane components Erik must use for the ritual. The party agrees, and they all return to the corpse of the gnome priest of Boccob Erik spoke to earlier. The wizard quickly goes through the motions of the spell. In his haste, he doesn’t execute the arcane incantations quite as flawlessly as before, and the party is only able to put two questions to the gnome’s corpse.

Erik asks, “How many people escaped through the Teleportation Circle just before or during the attack?”

The gnome replies, “None that I know of.”

Erik curses in frustration – does the corpse’s answer mean that no one escaped, or does the gnome just not know that some people escaped? The rest of the party implores Erik to simply ask the gnome if he knows where Larath is.

Erik turns to the gnome, “What are the last known whereabouts of Larath?”

The gnome answers, “I saw the troll ice shaman breathe the breath of winter on her, freezing her solid. I then saw her carried off with a number of other prisoners by the trolls.”

Finally! The party lets out a cheer of excitement, and Erik smiles broadly with a feeling of relief. Their way home is clear – they must enter the trolls’ cave and find the prisoners held there, assuming they are still alive. Aramil and The Zaza are pleased with this result, as they wish to reclaim the religious artifacts as well. It seems these two goals are now one and the same – and only a tribe of ice trolls stands in the party’s way.

As the party marches out into the snow, headed toward the icy cave entrance The Zaza and Aramil saw earlier, they realize there is also the small group of four Cult of Mortalis members to deal with. Given Aramil’s earlier discussion with Leoan, it seems possible the trolls and the cultists are headed for a conflict, which might do some of the party’s work for them. They debate whether they should wait a time, to let the cultists and ice trolls potentially come to blows. Once they spy the dark cave burrowing into the side of a glacier, they notice that the cultists are no longer standing around outside the entrance. Uncertain of whether the trolls and cultists are definitely headed for battle, the party decides they have waited around long enough, and an unguarded entrance means it’s time for action. They quickly cover the distance to the cave entrance and draw their weapons.

In the Father of Winter’s Domain

The party slowly creeps into the cave, trying their best to stay quiet. Unsure of what they might encounter, Aramil uses the Hat of Disguise to change into the elven priest he appeared as before when he spoke with Leoan. The party finds that the cave complex, rather than burrowing into rock, opens into a series of fissures and chambers hollowed out of a glacier of pure ice. As they move deeper into the cave they can hear a deep, raspy voice in one of the chambers up ahead. It stops as the party nears, and they guess that their attempt at stealth was an abysmal failure. They soon hear heavy footsteps approaching them and they halt in one of the narrow hallways to prepare for battle.

A pack of six trolls turns a corner up ahead and approaches. Fortunately, the narrow passages are ideally designed for the party. The Zaza stands her ground in the front, making a defensive line that the trolls can’t get around. The creatures are forced to come at the party one or two at a time, and are clearly not as impressive in battle as the first pack of trolls the party fought the previous night. While Aramil helps direct the party’s attacks, Erik and Invicto launch relentless barrages of arcane fire from safely behind The Zaza’s defenses. The last of the trolls is soon a charred corpse on the floor of the icy tunnel. The party members take a moment to catch their breath then press forward.

The tunnel eventually connects to a large chamber hollowed out of the ice. A huge crack opens a wide hole in the floor across part of the room. On the other side of the fissure, the party sees what clearly must be the troll tribe’s ice shaman. The creature’s tough hide is a pale, sky blue, and it sports a shock of long white hair. The shaman is currently bent over in front of Leoan, who looks bloodied and bruised while being held by two ice trolls. The party can see the lifeless corpses of the other three members of the Cult of Mortalis strewn about the floor of the chamber. In addition to the ice shaman, six other trolls lurk in the large, icy cavern.

Just as the party enters they see the ice shaman lift a long-fingered, scaly hand to hold palm upwards just in front of its mouth. Arcane energy coalesces above its hand and soon a small swirling ball of blue light, with flecks of white, forms. It almost appears as though the shaman holds a small ice storm in its hand. Leoan gasps in fear as the ice shaman purses its lips and carefully blows into the ball of energy. The breath of winter rushes out and expands as it blows out of the shaman’s hand and howls over Leoan’s body. An instant later, the spell subsides, and Leoan is left as a frozen statue of himself. His skin is snow-white, covered in icy flecks, and icicles dangle from his nose and elbows. The party now notices close to twenty other similarly frozen statues spread out around the chamber. Many of them wear priests’ vestments.

Still in disguise, Aramil steps forward and calls out in an impressively intimidating voice, “Who are you to defy the command of Lord Dread?”

Despite Aramil’s challenge, the ice shaman seems uninterested in talking. It turns to the party and coldly states, “I am tired of you humans’ piddling threats. I am the Father of Winter, and you will feel my wrath.”

The trolls near the party rush in to attack. The ice shaman calmly raises one of its hands and a bridge of ice forms beneath its feet as it steps across the large fissure in the floor of the room. The party feels they can handle the young trolls the tribe has left as warriors, but the ice shaman’s breath of winter has them unnerved. Erik reassures the party that he has studied the magic of petrification. He believes if any of them are frozen by the shaman’s spell, it can be broken by inflicting fire damage on the victim.

As the party engages the ice trolls they pick out one that is a Corrupted Ice Troll. Recalling their earlier battle with such creatures, they quickly realize the devastating potential of its nauseating aura. Avoiding the same tactical mistake they made last time, the party focuses its attacks on the creature and quickly takes it down. As The Zaza delivers the finishing blow, she easily flips her axe head around to bring her backswing into another ice troll. She calls upon Melora to imbue her strike with divine magic and the symbol of the nature god is emblazoned in fire on the creature’s chest before it crumbles into a heap of ash.

Erik rolls a flaming sphere around the battlefield with reckless abandon, setting numerous trolls aflame. Once again, not a single combatant is ever able to call upon its natural regenerative powers, as the creatures are constantly burned by some kind of fiery attack. The party has clearly learned how to deal with these ice trolls efficiently, and there is soon only one left standing besides the ice shaman.

The Father of Winter does not go down easy, however. As the melee rages, it casts the breath of winter over The Zaza, attempting to freeze her in place. Fortunately, The Zaza calls upon her Divine Mettle and shakes off the effect.

The ice shaman turns to breathe a blast of cold on Aramil as well, then swipes a vicious claw at the eladrin, knocking him back into the wall of the chamber. Aramil feels his limbs turn numb and his muscles begin to respond sluggishly. The always resourceful warlord quickly calls upon the magic of the Lucky Charm he wears around his neck and is able to fight off the effects of the spell. Nonetheless, as he recovers from the ice magic’s effects, Aramil finds himself caught away from the melee. Fortunately, the eladrin is still of use. He sees an opening in the ice shaman’s defenses and calls out to The Zaza, directing her to land a devastating blow on the creature.

Meanwhile, in the back of the battlefield, the one remaining ice troll manages to harass Invicto endlessly. Tired of trying to duck away from the creature’s attacks, the warlock knowingly opens himself to attack in order to utter the incantations for a Hellish Rebuke. The troll gashes into the gnome with its axe as Invicto completes the spell. Unfortunately, the blast of fire shoots wide, and the troll continues to hack away at Invicto. When the next blow lands, the gnome’s natural defenses kick in and he turns briefly invisibile, quickly skittering away from the troll. He turns to finally finish off the creature and unleashes another jet of flame at the troll. He somehow misses again and calls upon the Dark One’s Own Luck to redirect the spell, yet still can’t find the mark. As the troll turns to charge back into melee with Invicto, the warlock calls upon the last of his reserves to quickly fire another fiery curse at the creature. The attack finally lands, and the last ice troll falls to the ground as a smoking corpse at Invicto’s feet.

With the back of the battlefield cleared away, Erik turns his full attention to the ice shaman. He utters the incantations for his most powerful spell and a searing Wall of Fire springs up all around the shaman. The creature howls in pain as it tries to stumble out of the flames. The pain imbues the shaman with the power of Winter’s Fury, and it breathes multiple icy blasts at The Zaza, trying to freeze her, but the dragonborn raises her shield and deftly turns aside both of the attacks. Finally, the ice troll sees that the paladin has backed up near the icy fissure cutting a wide hole in the floor of the chamber. The shaman swings a heavy claw at The Zaza, attempting to knock her backwards into the pit, but the paladin stoically takes the blow and stands her ground.

Aramil can tell the shaman has just used every trick in its book and accomplished virtually nothing. He feels a little intimidation is in order. The eladrin calls out, “You are no Father of Winter! Surrender, you weakling!”

The shaman looks enraged at Aramil’s insult, but does hesitate. It tries to summon up some courage as it responds, “There is no need for further battle. You have bested my tribe, you can leave freely.”

Aramil laughs, “Perhaps if you give us the artifacts from the town and set the prisoners free, we’ll let you live.”

The troll replies, “You can have the artifacts, but I keep the prisoners.” The party can see the collection of religious artifacts piled in the back of the chamber. Of course, the prisoners are spread about the room as well, frozen in icy stasis. The party members look at each other and all seem to come to the same conclusion in their own minds. Why let this icy abomination live? After another volley of attacks, the Father of Winter falls to the ground lifeless.

Split-Second Decisions

With the ice shaman defeated, Erik ceases maintaining his Flaming Sphere and Wall of Fire spells. Their blazing heat winks out, but their effects are not undone. Especially due to the towering inferno of the Wall of Fire, huge chunks in the icy floor and ceiling of the room have melted away. Deep rumbles begin echoing throughout the complex as the weight of the massive glacier buckles from the structural damage. The party feels a shudder run through the chamber and suddenly huge cracks start appearing in the floor and ceiling. The entire cave structure has clearly been destabilized and the party realizes they have only precious seconds to escape.

Erik looks about desperately at all of the frozen prisoners filling the room. “Quick, use fire on them!” The wizard searches the faces of the prisoners and spies a tall female eladrin, with long brown hair worn in braids – Larath. She stands near another frozen statue, so Erik hurriedly casts a Scorching Burst spell, and the air around the two prisoners erupts in flame. The Zaza finds another two frozen statues bunched together and unleashes her dragon breath on the figures. The breath of winter melts away, and as the prisoners come to, The Zaza and Erik both yell some sense into them.

The prisoners are disoriented but respond quickly when The Zaza and Erik shout to them that the cave around them is collapsing and they are about to die. They tell the freed prisoners to grab an icy statue of someone and head out of the tunnel at the end of the room. Not sure what’s going on, the prisoners quickly follow the directions, and each of the four freed victims of the shaman’s icy curse carries another prisoner along with them as they leave the cave.

Meanwhile, Invicto ignores the frozen prisoners and heads straight for the back of the chamber where the rare magical artifacts are piled. He begins shoving whatever he can into the magical compartments of his Robe of Deep Pockets. The pile seems to include an array of different items as well as texts and writings on the artifacts themselves, but Invicto doesn’t have time to discriminate.

Erik is appalled at Invicto’s actions. He calls out to the warlock, “Invicto, use your Flames of Phlegethos spell on the prisoners. Save them!”

Invicto hurriedly replies, “We need the artifacts, not these stupid people!”

Erik is shocked at Invicto’s response, but knows there is no time to argue over it now. He turns back to the prisoners and searches out another two bunched close together to quickly cast a second Scorching Burst spell.

Meanwhile, Aramil does not see the situation quite as black and white as Invicto and Erik do. He knows the lives of the prisoners should be saved, but he also knows that this collection of rare, religious artifacts has the potential to save thousands of lives if they can be used against the undead armies. He fey steps to the back of the chamber, instantly appearing next to Invicto, and shoves a few artifacts into his pack. The warlord then turns to grab a couple of frozen prisoners to bring to safety while the warlock continues shoveling treasure into his pockets.

Large chunks of ice start breaking off from the ceiling, smashing into the floor of the room. Aramil nimbly dodges through the collapsing room to two frozen figures near the chamber’s entrance. Drawing on every ounce of energy he has, Aramil throws a dwarf over one shoulder and grapples an ice-covered dragonborn with his other arm.

With her dragon breath spent, The Zaza also resorts to grabbing up prisoners. She throws an elf over one of her shoulders, then turns and notices the frozen statue of Leoan crouched on the ground. Torn, she calls out to the rest of the party, “What about him?”

Erik finishes the incantations of his second Scorching Burst spell then turns and frowns. “He could give us crucial information about the undead army’s plans… Maybe we should take him.”

Aramil, having already sent a couple prisoners to their deaths by taking time to gather up some of the artifacts, is not interested in making more sacrifices. He calls out, “No! He doesn’t deserve to live. Let him die here.”

Erik and Aramil have no time to debate the matter further. Erik rushes over to the two prisoners he just unfroze with his Scorching Burst spell and begins directing them out of the chamber. The wizard himself follows close on their heels, realizing that there is no more time for more spells. However, Erik directs the pair to pick up two more frozen statues to bring with them on their way out of the chamber. Aramil, burdened by the weight of two frozen prisoners, also begins making his way out of the chamber.

As huge blocks of ice begin crashing down around her, The Zaza decides that bringing Leoan may save more lives in the long run, so she tosses the cultist over her other shoulder then sets a brisk pace as she strides across the chamber. Before leaving, she turns to survey the room once more. The paladin counts six frozen prisoners still awaiting a rescue that will never come. She utters a quick prayer to Melora to watch over their souls and then regretfully turns and leaves them to an icy tomb.

The last to evacuate, Invicto, with some earlier help from Aramil, manages to collect about half of the pile of artifacts. The gnome quickly skitters across the icy chamber as The Zaza heads out. Just as the gnome is leaving, the fissure in the middle of the room suddenly widens and the back half of the chamber collapses into the growing hole.

The party moves quickly through the tunnels of the icy cave with the ceiling caving in behind them. They thankfully spill out of the mouth of the cave and gather a safe distance outside of the entrance on a snowy hillside. The Zaza and Aramil collapse from the exertion of each carrying two ice statues out of the cave complex. Erik evokes a bit of magical fire to free the remaining frozen prisoners, other than Leoan whom they leave frozen for now. All in all, the party managed to rescue 14 of the 20 prisoners held in the ice shaman’s chamber. They piece together that all the prisoners seem to have been residents of the temple community.

The freed prisoners apparently were not aware of their surroundings while frozen, so they are quite confused as to what is going on. Nonetheless, they all seem to realize that they were captured by the trolls and the party is responsible for saving them. One of the prisoners, a young human female, asks the party, “Who are you? Who sent you here to save us?”

Aramil does not hesitate in his reply. “We are servants of the Empire of Nerath.”



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