Otherwise, read on!
Another hour had passed.
Bit couldn’t have told his companions how he knew this. If he had asked Raoul how long they had marchecd, the druid might have read the time by the progress of the stars across the sky. Boko would surely judge the length of their journey by the number of verses he had sung. And Keothakan had a tracker’s sense of the miles they had covered, and the pace they were keeping.
But for Bit, the passage of time was a physical sense. He could feel the arrival of each moment like a snowflake alighting gently on his skin. The minutes were marked in the clicking of his joints. The arrival of each hour echoed sonorously in his chest.
Not for the first time, Bit reached up and touched the hard metal disc embedded in his flesh, just over his heart. So much had changed since that day, years ago now, when he had first found the strange disc buried in the snow. He had changed. The tolling of hours in his chest was just another reminder of how much.
It was time to check.
Bit stopped and turned aside, allowing his companions to continue past him along the trail Keothakan was breaking in the freshly fallen snow. Placing his back to the ever-present wind, Bit shrugged his pack off one shoulder and pulled it around in front of him, catching the hooded lantern that was slung underneath it in his free hand.
His body curled protectively around the small tin case, Bit unhooked the lantern’s shutter and eased it open. Yellow light danced within the casing.
Bit closed and refastened the lantern’s shutter, shouldered his pack, and took long, hurried strides to catch up with his companions. The scholar in Bryn Shander had known no more about the strange disc in his chest than any of the sages Bit had sought out in the lands to the south–which was to say, she had known nothing at all. However, she had presented Bit with an interesting employment opportunity to aid in her research.1
“Chwingas are curious little creatures, originally discovered in the jungles of Chult, but adaptable to a wide range of environments,” the scholar had explained. “There’s never been a recording sighting of one this far north, but the locals here have many tales of trickster spirits, and I think chwingas might be behind them! If you find one in your travels, I’d be ever so grateful if you could bring it back to me so I can study it.”
After negotiating payment, the scholar had supplied Bit with a lantern that was supposed to glow green when chwingas were near. If anything, Bit had been more intrigued by the lantern than by the woman’s tales of meddlesome nature spirits, but now, having made several stops only to see the same yellow flame dancing within, Bit began to wonder whether he hadn’t been sent on a wild hare chase.
The lantern had an aura of magic about it, sure enough, but who was to say it did what the woman claimed? Bit knew of spells that could give a mundane object the appearance of magic, often used by unscrupulous hedge wizards to cheat credulous adventurers out of their coin.
Or perhaps the lantern really did track something. Perhaps it was tracking him, for another’s benefit. The thought gripped Bit with a chill greater than any winter snow.
Keothakan’s cry shook Bit from his reverie, and the goliath looked up to where the rest of his party stood ahead, clustered around the remains of a broken dogsled, already half-buried in snow. They had trekked out here at the behest of the dwarven weaponsmith in Bryn Shander, whose latest iron shipment had never arrived. Kip, the elven soldier, bent down to brush away the drifts covering the sled.
“The iron’s missing,” Kip declared ruefully, his face pulling into a frown. “Someone’s already been here.”
Keothakan circled out from the wreckage, examining the ground for tracks. It wasn’t long before he found them. “Goblins,” declared the burly warrior, tracing their passage with the tip of his glaive. “Heading west. If we hurry, we can catch them before the light fails.”
Bit thumbed his shoulder straps and followed the other goliath, pressing on as quickly as their shorter-legged companions could manage. With the wind at his back, Bit’s enchanted lantern now danced wildly at the end of its tether. Its magic would have to remain a mystery … for now.
1 Nature Spirits is presented as an alternative to Cold-Hearted Killer as an opening quest for Rime of the Frostmaiden. As with Cold-Hearted Killer, I thought Nature Spirits was a great way to encourage players to explore Ten Towns and engage in the campaign’s sandbox nature, but didn’t necessarily make for a solid hook to hang on as the first “adventure” the party should undertake.
Still, the quest is too fun to pass up, and makes for a nice way to engage players who are interested in exploring the setting’s lore. I really like having these kinds of low-impact quests that can run in parallel to the main action–something that’s easily recognizable from CRPGs, but doesn’t seem to get as much play in table-top modules.
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