The Winter King

A Warm Welcome

As the longboat glided to a rest, Marko Lancet stepped from the boat as if walking in a dream. “I can’t believe I’m back, but there it is. There’s that horrible statue. I’m really here…or maybe I’m not. Maybe I died. Maybe my head is in that tower of ice.” As his words trail off, he breaks into a shambling run towards the cairn, a 40’ spike of ice and skulls. Archimedes, upon seeing this, leaps over the side of the ship and tackles Marko, bringing him to the ground. Archimedes begans shoveling snow into his face, “Snap out of it! We need you whole!” Marko rolls over, gasping, “Alright! Alright! I’ll help, if I can.” The rest of the party disembarks with much less drama, but with no less wonder at the sight before them. A shallow depression in the mountainside is protected by a massive, frozen pile of skulls. Every race is represented…giant, human, dwarf, elf…and towards the top the skulls become more sparse, until at the very tip of the morbid obelisk, the grinning deathmasks are suspended in the ice, seeming to float. As they approach the cairn, they begin to feel the oppressive malevolence that seems to emanate from the cairn itself. Shuddering, they turn away from it and focus on the depression behind it.

The snow has piled up at the base of the cairn, but has blown clear of entrance into the mountain. Old stone tiles line the walkway towards two massive doors, coated in ice and snow. Marko shrugs, “These weren’t here before.” Duric raises his hammer and pounds it into the door. A resounding boom echoes through the valley as the ice falls away from the doors and they swing open.

Thinking quickly, Archimedes packs snow and ice into his armor, turning himself into a real-life Snow Elemental. As the snow hardens, it reinforces his armor giving him some added protection. Because he is clutching the ice scepter, he does not freeze. Reluctantly, Duric “assists” Archie in gaining complete coverage, shaking his head and mumbling something about crazy circus performers.

Much to their surprise, warmth and the smell of woodsmoke erupt from the entrance, as well as the aroma of the best kinds of food. As they cautiously advance down the corridor, they are greeted by a booming voice: “Welcome! Welcome! I suspect you are weary and sore from your journey, sit, eat and drink! I assume you have something of mine, no? Ha, Ha! Please, hand it to my servant and you can tell me about your travels.”

Kiava immediately suspected foul play, but, even with enhanced focus provided by her god, she could not see any glimmer of illusion. Still, the party suspected, and this Winter King and his offer of food seemed almost too easy. As they hesitated by the doorway, The large human barbarian grew impatient. In no time, the glamour faded, and battle began in earnest. What looked like a servant girl turned out to be a gnome spellcaster, sly and deceptive. The four large mastiffs snarled as their appearance changed to Direwolves, and the barbarian, Bortek, mounted one wolf and lept over the table and attacked.

This was more like it. The party engaged, fighting off the wolves as they attacked. A flash of light blinded most of the party, and suddenly there were three gnomes! Bortek swung massive sweeping strikes with his greataxe, each blow hitting Duric, Archimedes, and whoever else was in range. Xanthe tumbled through the battle, taking cover under the food-laden table, alternately firing flaming bolts and grabbing food and drink from the tabletop above her. Each party member kept peering at the table during combat, tryin to discern what was really going on. Towards the end of the conflict, Elena looked one more time between shots from her longbow and the illusion became clear. What was steaming hot food and sparkling wine became rotting flesh and bone and stone cups filled with blood. An eery message appeared in frost on the tabletop in frost: “Do you think you are welcome in my house?”

Xanthe, largely forgotten by the enemies in their midst, jumped up on the table and flipped through the air, landing with finesse on the back of the last, and largest, direwolf. Raising her crossbow, she fired a flaming bolt into the base of its skull, causing the the creature to collapse and breath its last. She slid from the beast, smiling in triumph. “THAT’S how you finish a wolf!”

Much blood was spilled, but finally the party triumphed. Bortek lay dead at their feet, along with the four direwolves. The gnome mage had disappeared completely. The party dressed their wounds and inspected the room. Four beds lined the east wall, looking very comfortable, warm, and inviting. Bob mumbled under his breath, and it became clear to him that these beds were cursed, and would not offer good rest. A room to the west opened into an obvious dog pen, the floor covered in rags and torn clothing. Holding their noses against the smell, the party assembled in this room while Bob walked to and fro, mumbling and gesturing as the clothing and floor became magically clean. Exhausted from their journey, the party collapsed and slept like they hadn’t slept in a month.

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CoyThorp

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