Following the caravan route through the Horned Hills accompanied by their guardian, Manny, John Davers and his friends travel towards the village of Torlynn. As they travel Manny attacks any creatures which seek to do the party harm, pouncing on a group of goblins laying in ambush along the road. After devouring one of their number the remaining band of goblins flee for their lives as the group looks on with a mix of horror and relief. Manny leaves the party as they exit the Horned Hills and enter the edge of the Black Swamp.
John Davers enters the swamp with some trepidation, but assures the group that everything will be okay. He explains that they are entering only a small portion of the swamp; a delta at the base of the Drake River. Lake Ganif lies between them and the Black Swamp proper. They need only travel about a mile through the swamp before they reach dry land again, at which time they will head north towards Torlynn by following the river.
The insects and humidity of the swamp make the trip uncomfortable in the already warm summer weather. John Davers is startled several times by Fenrath’s false cries of attack. While the swamp lands make the group uneasy they keep a sharp out for danger keeping their weapons drawn and at the ready.
Jackson asks John Davers about the potential dangers in the swamp and in Thunder Rift in general. John Davers explains that it is normally very dangerous to travel anyway in the wilds between civilization in Thunder Rift. The Black Swamp is filled with lizardmen and other dangerous reptiles who are hostile to all outsiders. Goblins prey on travelers in the hills, while the forests whole more terrible monsters still. The only safe roads to travel are those in the Melinir region as they are patrolled by the men of Melinir.
John Davers again expresses his gratitude to be traveling with such capable companions as he would be very nervous to travel alone. When asked how he normally travels he explains that he is usually part of much larger caravan with many wagons and armed guards. He says that lately, due to the hard economic times, that there have been no other merchants traveling this way. John Davers was forced to set out alone in order to earn money for his family back in Inuk. Without a steady flow of income his family will surely starve, so John Davers takes what risks he must for their sake. He explains that he cannot afford to pay for armed guards to travel with him as he does not have the money. John Davers is happy to enter into a partnership with the group and sell any items they acquire from their adventures such as the loot taken from the bandits. The group finds this to be an attractive offer and agrees.
Once they reach dry land they spy the caravan road again. John Davers explains that this road leads to Melinir and eventually to Torlynn, but it will be much faster if they turn off the road and head north along the river. The group express concern about leaving the road, but John Davers explains that it will add a considerable amount of time to their trip; time he cannot afford to waste as he must return home as soon as possible. John Davers understands if the group wishes to take the road or travel to Melinir, but he must continue north. The group quickly agrees to travel north with John Davers.
As they travel north, Bharash becomes aware of a mysterious rumbling sound like thunder clouds or a rockslide. As the sky is clear and bright he warns the party to fan out and prepare for potential attack. When told of this development John Davers warns the party that it may be the rumbling of a land shark! The group thinks that John Davers is joking when he describes the creature burrowing through the earth with only it’s fin showing to leap from the ground and swallow travelers whole. John Davers explains that he has never been attacked by a land shark, but he has seen the fins in the distance following caravans. Taking him more seriously they ask if these land sharks are known to be in this area. John Davers explains that, “A land shark respects no politcal boundaries or borders; all of the earth is their domain!” Under Bharash’s advisement, the party increases its pace northwards.
As they travel, Jackson makes a strange discovery; a chunk of ice is seen floating down the river. As he points it out to his companions it disappears downstream. Given the warm summer weather they are experiencing they conclude that he simply must have been mistaken. As they travel further north cool breezes begin blowing which cool them off making the journey much more bearable. Soon they notice that they are no longer sweating, and that the winds have become brisk. It becomes colder still as they enter the forests near Torlynn. When asked if the forest is dangerous, John Davers explains that the woods near Torlynn are usually peaceful. The loggers scare away most dangerous creatures and the woods north of Torlynn are settled by the elves. He says that it certainly much safer than say, Grakken Wood. When asked if Grakken Wood is dangerous John Davers replies with the local saying, “Fools venture lightly into Grakken Wood.”
When asked if John Davers had any maps of Thunder Rift or the local area he explained that he did not. John Davers had never traveled far from the Melinir region before and that maps were not one of the products that he carried. He recommended the services of another traveler by the name of Boffo. John Davers explained that Boffo had traveled all over Thunder Rift, and that one of his hobbies was creating maps of the places he had explored. He explained that Boffo was a sweet person, not very tall, and covered in white fur with long ears. He did not know a polite way to describe his race explaining that the only term he knew for it was mongrelfolk which he felt was a rude thing to call Boffo. The group assured John Davers that they would refer to him only as Boffo, and that they were anxious to meet him.
Making their way through the forest, the travelers catch glimpses of snowflakes falling lightly in the sun. This is dismissed at first, but as they travel deeper into the forests the snow becomes heavier and the wind colder. John Davers complains of the cold until Fenrath asks him, “if there’s anything in your goods that you can put on to keep you from complaining?” John Davers dons a heavy wool coat from his supplies and remains silent. Snow piles up on the ground several inches deep and sharp winds blow through the trees. The sky is darkened by thick gray clouds. Fenrath detects the signs of faint fey magic at work here.
The group trudges through the snowy woods until the elven priestess spots a young boy stumbling blindly through the woods. Pointing him out, the group at first fears attack, but then rushes to the boy’s aid. John Davers recognizes the boy as Heinrich, a boy of 12 from the village of Torlynn. Heinrich explains that the village has been cursed by an eternal winter that will not subside. His village is slowly starving, and he could not bear to see his mother suffer. He set off alone to find anyone who might be able to help them. He begs the group to save his village before collapsing into unconsciousness.
John Davers wraps the boy up in another wool coat and places him on Darcy’s back. The group then proceeds with all haste to Torlynn village. Upon approaching the village, they see that many of the outlying farms lie in ruins, and have been abandoned. John Davers points out the Soft Pillow Inn on their approach, explaining that it is a comfortable place he often stays at run by a sweet old woman named Beata. The group approaches the inn eager to find shelter from the cold. As Bharash tries the door, he finds it to be locked. Scraping frost from the windows he peers inside to see the building long since abandoned. Heading towards the village proper, the group passes over wood and stone bridge which spans the Drake River to lead to Torlynn to see that the river is completely frozen over with ice. John Davers is shocked to see that the Lumber Mill is closed as it is Torylnn’s primary industry. Everywhere they look there are abandoned homes and farms.
Finally, they see a building with smoke coming from the chimney. John Davers explains that this is the home and shop of his friend and business partner Hugo Varn. Banging on the door they are greeted by a cantankerous middle aged man with thin, light blonde hair wearing spectacles and a heavy robe and carrying a candle. John Davers greets his friend and asks for an explanation. Hugo recognizes Heinrich and ushers him in to stay warm. He notes that Heinrich has been missing for several days, and that his mother has been worried about him. Jackson is impressed that the young boy was able to survive for so long wandering in the cold.
Hugo explains that the town has fallen under and evil curse from the mad wizard Barrik. Hugo explains that though Barrik has been dead for years that his presence lives on in the form of a curse of eternal winter. Fenrath protests the use of the term “eternal,” claiming that the curse should be considered “temporary” as they will soon be breaking it. Not convinced by Fenrath’s words, Hugo continues to lament the lot of Torlynn. He explains that the town has been cursed by eternal winter for over a year now. Some woodsmen spotted lights at Barriks Keep, and Burgomaster Gustovan sent a group of adventurers to explore it. They never returned, and soon after the curse of winter fell upon them. Hugo is convinced that the curse is Barrik’s revenge brought on by the burgomaster’s disturbance of his resting place. He goes on to explain that almost all of the business in Torlynn have been shut down. His own business is in a shambles as traders refuse to come to Torlynn now. He curses them for cowards and laments that all of Thunder Rift has abandoned them to their icy deaths. He says that they can speak with the burgomaster about it, but he thinks it will do them no good.
The group heads further into the center of town which is laid out in a circle. John Davers, Jackson, Fenrath, and the elven priestess head to the home of the burgomaster, while Bharash and Welkin offer to take Heinrich home to his mother. John Davers gives them directions Heinrich’s home in the center of town near the well. The rest of the group knock on the burgomaster’s door. His home is large, and of good quality, but not opulent. Soon a rotund man with receding black hair and a curled mustache answers the door. He dressed in a fine blue velvet suit and vest that barely contains his bulk. A golden monocle rests over one eye, attached to his vest by a gold chain. He greets them in heavy accent explaining that he is burgomaster, and that they are welcome in his home. He ushers the group into his parlor where a small fire is burning in the fireplace. He offers them each cups of hot chocolate, a local specialty, along with marshmallows. He apologizes that there isn’t much firewood left for a fire. It seems ironic that a lumber town would run out of firewood, but he explains that the curse of eternal winter has made it impossible to cut down trees. “It is like trying to chop down stone!” Their hot chocolate has been the only way they have been able to keep themselves warm.
Meanwhile, Bharash and Welkin deliver Heinrich to his mother Ingrid. Ingrid is a young blonde woman in her early twenties who is comely, though weathered by hardship. She is overjoyed to see Heinrich again, wrapping him up in her arms and pulling him close to her. She immediately asks the names of the two strangers who have delivered her son to her. Bharash gives him name and she throws her arms around him kissing him on each cheek. She assures him that his name will always be remembered in their home. Welkin gives his name and she embraces him kissing both cheeks as well. She implores them to return soon, and that she will reward them with a fine meal of goulash. The two politely depart for the burgomaster’s house.
As the enter his home they hear the burgomaster asking Fenrath to stop slurping his hot chocolate so that he can explain the situation to them. Bharash and Welkin are seated and given hot chocolate with marshmallows as the burgomaster begins:
“Friends, I am glad you have come. I can see from the looks on your faces that you have already notices the terrible curse of eternal winter which has befallen our village. Today should be the warmest day of the year, and the height of our summer festival, with delicious food, children laughing and playing in the streets, and much merriment. Instead there is no one in the streets, and our bellies are empty. Another inch of snow has fallen on our streets since your arrival burying us in an icy tomb.
I believe I know the source of this foul magic! Some miles outside of this village lies the ruined keep of the mad wizard Barrik! Last spring some of the woodsmen from our village saw lights in the old keep. They thought perhaps children were playing in the dangerous ruin, but when they approached they saw horrible rat creatures the likes of which they had never seen before!
They raced back to me to tell me their tale. I immediately recruited a team of adventurers much like yourselves, but all of them elves. They set out to explore the keep and never returned. Soon after was when the winter came. Whatever has caused this curse must be in that keep!
We the good people of Torlynn have been trapped in this eternal winter for over a year, and there seems no end in sight. We cannot raise crops, forage for food in the forests, or continue our lumber business to buy supplies. Our stores of food and firewood are nearly exhausted. Every day that passes, more and more of my people leave Torlynn for happier lands. Soon there will be no one left in Torlynn.
Please, will you help us? We do not have much, but I can gather whatever money is available from our coffers to pay you. I can promise you each 20 pieces of gold if you can break this curse. Please, I beg you to help us.”
The group considered Gustovan’s offer. In return for the reward of gold along with two pounds of chocolate and marshmallows they agreed to help the people of Torlynn. Gustovan and John Davers were overjoyed. Gustovan thanked John Davers for again bringing great things from beyond Thunder Rift to the village in the form of these brave adventurers.
The group decided to supply themselves for the dangerous journey. The burgomaster suggested that they might find their supplies at the Provisioner, Kepli Mellaroyla or through Hugo Varn. He asked that they return to his home for the night as the inn is closed and his home is the largest and most comfortable in all of the village. Fenrath asked how Gustovan became the burgomaster. Gustovan explained that he was elected by a democratic process. Each adult citizen of Torlynn is entitled to vote, and that they had elected him to the position over and over again for 30 years. He explains that he is very happy to be the burgomaster, that he loves his people, and that they all love him. He has felt a terrible guilt over his inability to help ease their suffering until now. He explains that if they can break the curse that things will return to normal again, and Torlynn will become a happy place again. When asked if anyone ever ran against him or if there were ever and close elections, Gustovan explained that Hugo Varn has run against him before, but that he was never able to garner more than a quarter of the vote.
The group then headed off to the Provisioner. The group was greeted by the owner, Kepli, who was a halfing woman standing only 3 feet tall. She was put off by Fenrath at first, but quickly warmed to Bharash. She was happy to provide goods to the group at a considerable discount supplying them with torches, lanterns, and oil. She was pleased that they had come to end the curse of eternal winter, which Fenrath noted was really only a “temporary” curse of winter. Kepli was impressed by the way Fenrath thought and had all confidence that the group would end the curse in no time.
Heading back to the burgomaster’s home to rest for the night, Fenrath demanded an inspection of all of the beds in the house. Finding the largest and most comfortable, he claimed it for his own. Gustovan was quite pleased by this. He explained that it was his own bed and that the two of them could huddle together for warmth and be quite comfortable. While the burgomaster was eager to do so Fenrath was not and chose the second most comfortable bed for his own.
Upon rising in the morning, the burgomaster cooked breakfast for the group. He apologized for having no eggs, pancakes, or muffins. Instead he could offer them slabs of bacon which he fried and served with more hot chocolate. Making a final stop at the provisioner’s, the group inquired about climbing gear, explaining that they would be heading off to Barrik’s Keep this day. Kepli was overjoyed to hear this as she was hoping to sun herself this afternoon, asking if the group would be so kind as to “break the curse before lunch so I can get to that.” Kepli was unable to supply them with climbing gear and direct them to Hugo Varn. Inspired by her confidence in them, the group headed off to Hugo, purchased the climbing gear, at a modest surcharge, and headed into the woods to find Barrik’s Keep.
The burgomaster explained that it might be difficult to locate the keep in the storm. He apologized for not being able to provide them with a guide. As they set out into the forest it seemed at those the storm had a will of its own and was intent on keeping the group from their destination. Working together as a group, they struggled to overcome the cold and blinding snows. Wind howled around them with an intense fury and everywhere they turned all they could see was an endless white blur. Fenrath used his arcane knowledge to unravel the fey magic at work in the storm. He was able to follow patterns in the magic’s weave to trace the magic back to its source. Welkin used his farm hardened muscles to force his way through snow drifts making a path for his companions, leaping of ditches, and moving fallen trees from their path. An obscure piece of legend came to Jackson’s mind allowing him to recognize tree split in a Y-shape which pointed the way to Barrik’s Keep. The elven priestess’ keen senses were able to pierce through the fey illusions cast by the storm in order to keep the group from traveling in circles or falling prey to treacherous paths that appeared to be safe. Bharash spotted a safe path through the uneven terrain which led them to a clearing where Barrik’s Keep was said to lie. Battered by the storm, but not permanently harmed, they emerged at their destination.
Lying in their path to the keep were three snow covered stone ridges. Waiting to ambush the group were a band of twisted goblins, naked to the waist, with deep blue skin, seemingly unfazed by the bitter cold around them. Between the slopes lay a large patch of glistening ice among the snow.
Bharash brought the fight to the goblins lying in wait on the northern ridge. Striking them unaware he dealt a deadly blow slaying one blue goblin outright. Jackson was quick to follow his companion into the fray shouting out tactical orders to the rest of the group. Fenrath and the elven priestess attacked from afar launching the deadly power of their arcane and divine magics respectively. Welkin strode forward with his mighty halberd to harry the goblins of the southern ridge.
The goblins quickly responded to this assault by launching a barrage of javelins down on the group from their lofty perches. The eastern ridge held the goblin’s leader, a Hexer, who launched a cloud of freezing snow and ice into the group, blinding and slowing them. Jackson and Bharash continued to assault the northern ridge, but were hampered by the wintery attacks of the goblin hexer. The hexer began unleashing bolts of cold energy which sapped away Bharash’s lifeforce and filled his very bones and muscles with ice threatening to freeze him solid. Goblins rushed forth with icy blades to hack away at Jackson and Welkin. The elven priestess fought to make her way through cloud of ice and snow which seemed to respond to the vile will of the goblin hexer always placing itself where it could do them the most harm.
Fenrath’s magical talents were thwarted by the manipulations of the hexer and by the difficult terrain. The constant magical attacks of the hexer inflicted grievous wounds on both Jackson and Bharash as the goblins continued to hurl javelins and attack them with spears. The elven priestess’ continued efforts were needed to keep both warriors standing. Jackson moved around the battlefield, inspiring his fellows to greater feats of heroism. Though slowed to a crawl by the hexer’s magic, Bharash trudged ever closer to his quarry with the stubborn determination his dwarven brethren are known for. As the elven priestess advanced with them, she discovered to her horror that the patch of ice between the ridges was no ordinary hazard, but a living fey creature of sinister malevolence eager to devour any who dared to tread upon its surface. Shouting out a warning to her comrades, the group grew ever closer to eastern ridge and the goblin leader.
Welkin, having cleared the southern ridge of goblins circumvented the treacherous ice patch and approached the eastern ridge from the south. Pulling out his climbing gear he prepared to scale the face of the ridge to its summit and the spire upon it. Fenrath moved into position along the southern ridge to use it as a vantage point to launch his magical attacks over the obscuring cloud of snow and ice directly at the goblins on the eastern ridge. Pressed on all sides by enemies, the goblins of the eastern ridge fell back into defensive positions. The hexer tried vainly to deflect Fenrath’s magic and the coming assault of Jackson and Bharash by directing his bolts and freezing cloud at them. He attempted to curse Jackson by binding him in trap of icy razors that would cut him to ribbons were he to move an inch, but Jackson was able to escape the spell’s hold.
The hexer’s goblin soldiers held the northern and southern slopes of the eastern ridge as Bharash and Welkin scaled them. The hexer came down from his spire to face his foes directly and find some respite from Fenrath’s constant magical bombardment. Bharash was soon joined by Jackson as the directed attacks against both the hexer and his guards. Welkin finished with his opponent and moved in with his companions against the hexer. Caught between Jackson and Bharash not even the hexer’s skin of ice which sent chilling ripples of cold through any who struck him could have him from Bharash’s blade which pierced his heart. With an invocation to her goddess, the elven priestess send a bolt of divine retribution through the final goblin reducing it to ash.
Foes defeated, Barrik’s Keep stood ominously before the heroes.