Otherwise, read on!
Keothakan forged ahead along the Ten Trail, mindful to slow his gait so the others could keep pace. Occasionally he ranged ahead to scout for danger before returning back to the party. Even with the human settlements nearby, safety in Icewind Dale was never assured. Their harrowing encounter with the snowy owlbears had been proof of that.
The goliath warrior surveyed his newfound companions as they struggled forward against the wind and snow. The elf, Kip, and his comrade, Bishop, were doughty warriors. Though ill prepared for the rigors of the north, they bore the winter’s lash stoicly. This was more than could be said for the Waterdhavian noble, Boko, who maintained an impressive litany of complaints against the cold, the dark, and the hunger in his belly.
The man could probably spin an epic out of a stone in his shoe, thought Keo with rueful mirth.
Raoul was, if anything, of even slighter build than Boko, but moved with greater ease than the bard. Having been a guest of Keothakan’s tribe for the last several moons, Raoul had learned the rudiments of life on the frozen tundra. As Keo watched the human lad’s sure movements, pride mingled with concern in the goliath’s heart. Icewind Dale was an unforgiving land, and although Raoul’s training would see him in good stead, there were many dangers for which the lad was still unprepared.
But even more at home in the frozen waste than Raoul was the group’s sorcerer, Bit. The quiet, robed man was a goliath, like Keo, but that was where the similarity ended. Where Keo’s form bulged with muscle and sinew, Bit’s was slender. Where the warrior carried his mighty glaive, the sorcerer was armed with nothing save his magics. Where Keo’s eyes darted about the landscape, alert to any threat, Bit’s gaze was steady and unblinking, as if trying to take in more light than the guttering torches could muster. And where Keothakan had spent his entire life in the frozen mountains that bordered this land, Bit was returning to Icewind Dale after a long sojourn in the lands of the south.
All in all, the sorcerer was unlike any goliath Keo had ever known. And in the wilds of the tundra, the unknown was always a potential danger.
Keothakan sighed and shook these thoughts from his head. Perhaps it was simply the effect of the unending night that now afflicted his homeland, but the black moods had been coming upon Keo more often of late. The warrior quickened his pace, forcing himself to feel the crunch of ice under his feet, the pumping of blood in his legs. Dousing his torch in the snow, Keo peered through the gloom ahead, blinking away the phantom remnants of the torch’s light until he was sure of what he saw. Finally, he turned and called back to the others.
“Tell the bard he can stop his grumbling. We’ve reached Bryn Shander!”
A gray, feeble light was creeping into the southern sky when the party finally gained the top of the hill upon which Bryn Shander was situated. Torches crowned the battlements of the town’s wooden walls, dancing wildly in the winds that blew off the Reghed glacier to the east. Heavy gates stood barring the entryway, and as the companions drew to a halt, a human figure appeared atop the ramparts.
“Who goes there?” called the gate guard, shouting to be heard over the wind. It was the human cleric, Bishop, who stepped forward to answer him.
“I am Bishop, a servant of Helm. My companion and I–” he motioned to Kip, “have traveled here at the behest of the church to provide aid to the people of Ten Towns in their time of need. These others–” here he swung his arm to encompass the rest of the party, “we found on the road, also in need.” Keo snorted in derision at this account of their meeting, but if the cleric noticed, he gave no sign.
The guard seemed to weigh the cleric’s words before responding. “If what you say is true, then you’ll be welcome in Bryn Shander. But it’s been many a moon since anyone from the south has found their way here, and we’ve had trouble before with … unwanted visitors.”
At this, the guard drew something from inside his heavy fur cloak and tossed it to the ground at Bishop’s feet. The cleric stooped to pick it up and raised it where the rest of the party could see. A silver disc, stamped with the symbol of a blazing sun, gleamed in the torchlight.
“Take off your gloves and hold it up with your bare hands where I can see,” called the guard. A few of the companions looked askance at this odd request, but again, Bishop seemed unfazed. Drawing off one glove, the cleric held the silver disc high in his bare hand.
“Helm’s servants fear neither dawn nor darkness,” he proclaimed loudly. The guard nodded, seemingly satisfied. Bishop passed the token to Kip, who followed his companion’s lead.
Round their party the companions passed the silver icon, until finally it came to Keo. The goliath, inured to the cold, had no need of gloves or fur. He snatched the disc up with his bare hand, grimacing as he did so, and held it up for the guard to see. After receiving the man’s nod of acknowledgment, Keo cocked his arm and hurled the disc over the wall. The guard, startled, reacted too slowly to catch it, and flashed an accusatory look at Keo. The goliath met the man’s glare with his own steely gaze until the guard flushed and looked away.
“Do we have your leave to enter, or are there more tests we must pass?” called Boko, flapping his arms in a futile effort to keep warm. “Not all of us have skins made of stone or the patience of saints, and I, for one, would welcome a hot meal and a warm bed.”
The guard shook his head. “Begging your pardon, I had to be sure there were no demons among you. Hold on just a minute longer, and I’ll have that gate open.” The man descended from his perch, disappearing from view.
A few moments later, the wooden gates swung wide, and the guard beckoned them forward. “My name’s Blake,” he offered as they passed inside the palisade. “If you need anything while you’re here-“
“Stop!” came a cry from around a nearby corner. Dashing out from the side street came a man dressed in pelts with long, twisted hair flying wildly about his shoulders. The man’s hands clutched a clay ewer, which slopped liquid on the street’s cobblestones as the man pivoted and ran straight toward the gates. “Stop!”
While the rest of the party seemed frozen in surprise, Keo reacted instinctively, stepping back with one leg as he swung his glaive down in front of him to meet the oncoming charge. However, the man pulled up just short of the blade’s reach, tipping the ewer forward and heaving its contents at the party.
Boko screamed in shock as the ice-cold water hit him full in the face. The others yelped in surprise or swore in discomfort as the water soaked their robes and drenched their furs. Only Keo maintained a wary silence, his muscles taut as he fought to restrain the impulse to run this man through.
“Dammit Wulfsigge!” cried the gate guard, Blake, now rounding on the newcomer. “I told you to stop doing that! I already checked them with silver.”
“And I told you,” responded the man with the wild hair, “silver doesn’t work on the spawn of Tekeli-li.1 Only the blessed waters will show them true.” The man, unchastened by his comrade’s ire, now turned a broad smile on the sodden companions. “I am Wulfsigge,” he declared proudly, “and you are not demons. I greet you, friends of Ten Towns.”
Blake sighed and shrugged. “He’s Reghed,” the guard apologized, as if this explained everything. “Welcome to Bryn Shander.”
A few hours later, the companions were ensconced in what Keo supposed the others considered comfortable lodgings at one of the town’s inns, an establishment called the Northlook. For his part, the goliath found the building’s close air stifling, its ceilings painfully low, and its beds and chairs laughably small. Even the drink it served, a clear liquid the color of straw, seemed thin and weak–nowhere near as satisfying as the fermented goat’s milk he was used to quaffing whenever he returned to his clan’s hold at the end of a long hunt.
Boko’s spirits seemed much improved by their arrival in town, and the goliath smiled in spite of himself to see the bard already regaling the inn’s other guests with tales of his travels. Leaving the bard to spin his stories, Keo ducked out of the common room and into the streets of Bryn Shander, sighing with pleasure as he felt the chill air envelop him.
The goliath leaned easily against the building’s corner, watching the townsfolk hurry through the streets to escape the cold and return to their homes for their evening meals. Absentmindedly, he rubbed his hands together as he listened to the muted bustle of the inn, occasionally catching snatches of conversation as the door swung open to admit another patron.
I don’t belong here. That much was clear. Keothakan had originally intended only on seeing Raoul safely to Bryn Shander, and then to return to his clan’s hold at Wyrmdoom Crag. But now, the goliath had a mind to continue traveling with his newfound companions, at least for the time being. There was, of course, the battle bond, but more than that, there were questions that needed answering …
Keo stopped rubbing his hands, and pulled them apart to gaze at his palm. Red and angry, the image of the blazing sun was clearly visible where the silver had seared his flesh. Keo reached down and grabbed a handful of snow off the ground, clenching his fist around it and grunting with the dull pain.
I don’t belong here, the goliath thought to himself once more. The mark tells me that much. But what does it mean?
And for as long as I’ve lived there, even Wyrmdoom Crag has never truly felt like home.
Where do I belong?
1 Rime of the Frostmaiden introduces many new creatures to the game, one of which is Tekeli-li, the gnoll vampire. Rather than treating Tekeli-li as just a carbon copy off the standard vampire “template,” the adventure imagines it as a unique creature with its own peculiar strengths and weaknesses–close enough to the classic archetype to be recognizable as a vampire, but different enough to keep players guessing as to how to fight it. I really appreciated this fresh take, and decided to dramatize it by having the guards of Bryn Shander arguing over what kinds of wards would protect them against the vampire’s spawn.
Sadly, for such a great adversary, Tekeli-li gets very little spotlight in the adventure as written. It haunts the Caves of Hunger, a dungeon near the end of the adventure that many groups might never get around to playing through, and is never referred to anywhere else in the adventure, such that even groups that do make it to the Caves of Hunger will end up stumbling into an encounter with the vampire without ever knowing what they’re up against until it’s over.
The best weapon of any good horror villain is suspense, and to create suspense, we need foreshadowing, which drove my decision to introduce rumors about Tekeli-li early on in the campaign. I also started building a connection between Tekeli-li and the gnolls of Cackling Chasm, another dungeon the players would have an opportunity to explore much sooner in the campaign, providing an escalating scale of tension that would (hopefully) culminate with their eventual encounter with the vampire itself in the Caves of Hunger.
Next Post: Trouble in Ten Towns