The Swordlands

Journeys With A Cake, Part 6

As the raft split, Aengus once again called upon his Faerie-like powers to teleport to safety on the bank. Over the next minute, he saw Karl and Thunder also pull themselves out of the water, but of Yetta, Yuppi, Sigurd, Aldis and Iben there was no sign.

Following the path as best they could, the three of them moved around the next bend in the river to be greeted by an awesome sight. The gorge ended abruptly in a swirling maelstrom as the river dived downwards between walls of rock, disappearing underground. Overhanging vegetation grew in the tremendous spray that was thrown up from this sinkhole.

After a short discussion, Karl found himself, once more, on the end of a rope being lowered into the vast, sucking hole at the centre of the maelstrom. With water all around him, he, in turn, slowly lowered a torch ahead of him as he descended into the blackness, desperately hoping for a sign of his companions. Above him, Aengus and Thunder, perched dangerously on the strongest tree-branches they could find, kept careful grip on the rope and slowly continued to lower their Gnomish friend.

Next time: Did the others survive? Did the cake?

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Journeys With A Cake, Part 5

At the sound of the twig, Karl spun round trying to see what was moving out in the blackness. Seeing no movement, he crept quickly out of the clearing, scouting around. The rest of the group fanned out around the edge of the clearing, but could find nothing more than a small set of wolf tracks. Neither Iben nor Aengus could explain them, save to say that another spirit had interrupted what was going on.

After a short discussion on the do’s and don’ts of dealing with Faerie, it was decided that the food could be eaten, and the companions fell upon it ravenously. Sigurd, however, had a very bright idea and asked Iben if she could borrow his Bag of Holding. Placing the cooked Dragonfish inside, she explained that should the Fisher King or his troll-kin be encountered, we could produce these fish as a distraction or bribe. This idea was greeted with great joy by the others, who had been somewhat worried by the prospect of facing angry troll-kin seeking to devour them.

After feasting and returning to the tree, the whole group, including Aengus, fell asleep inside. Awakening, they found that a deep snowfall had happened during the night, with light flakes still falling as the sun was coming up. Thunder, feeling truly rested for the first time since he had been rescued from the Ice Wall, noted that Aengus seemed disturbed. Pressing him, Aengus admitted that he had had a dark and disturbing dream during the night (see Ragnarok page).

Sigurd has had another bright idea during her sleep. She asks Yuppi and Yetta if the cake can be dismantled, showing them the Bag of Holding. Quickly the idea is grasped – by dismantling the cake and storing it in this magical bag, it can be transported more easily and with less risk. Yetta has made the cake so that it can come apart in layers and pieces, and it stacks up neatly inside the bag. Sigurd can now ride inside the cart with Yetta and Thunder, whilst Yuppi keeps an eye on the ox from outside. Aengus and Karl continue to range ahead with Iben guarding the rear.

After half a days walk through the waist-deep snow, the travel-party comes to a stone bridge crossing a second stretch of the River of Knives . This bridge has a thirty-foot span, and is well built and sturdy. The path continues down into lower hills on the far side, but as the party cross the bridge they can see that the river is swollen and running faster than normal.

Yuppi casts his eye down at the raging water below, and looks along it’s path. Pointing, he says “We’re going to need the raft. Normally we can walk alongside the river and stay off it, but with the snowfall, and the recent rain there is no way we could manage that. There is a raft prepared – I hope you’re all ready for some more hard work?”

The ox was left behind with sacks of food for the return journey, tied up safely in a cave with the cart. With Iben’s Bag of Holding taking the weight of the cake, all members of the party clamber cautiously onto the raft. As they set out, Yuppi stays at the back, doing his best to steer with an oar. Aengus sits at the front, keeping an eye out for rocks hidden under the water. Iben and Thunder sat at the front corners with long poles, ready to use their strength to keep the raft from crashing into the sides of the gorge.

The first set of rapids were negotiated with ease, and the river opened out for a moment. This respite was short-lived, however, and as the gorge ahead narrowed the river once again picked up speed. Racing around a corner, everyone could see more jagged, rusty rocks looming up from under the water. Unfortunately, on this occasion Aengus’ eyes were not keen enough, and a jagged rock ripped into the raft from beneath, splitting it down the middle. Despite heroic efforts to hold it together, within seconds the party had been dumped unceremoniously into the freezing, fast-running river.

Illustration of Thunder by James Paterson

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Journeys With A Cake Part 4

Aengus’ sharp Eladrin ears had picked up the sound of a snapping twig in the vicinity. He had been staring up at the night sky, using the book recovered from Glorium to compare the skies now to those from years past, and becoming increasingly interested in the changes in the formations over time.

He had been warned by Yuppi that wolves lived in these forests, hungry and lean. Quietly waking Karl, the two of them crept quietly into the forest, seeking to discover whether this was just a harmless animal or something more serious. After a few moments, what sounded distinctly like soft, booted footsteps could be heard, walking parallel to the camp. Exchanging glances, Karl and Aengus woke their companions and the group moved as silently as it could through the dark trees to investigate.

Ahead, they could see dim light flickering in the night. Moving closer, Aengus saw small footprints as if made by booted feet leading towards the light. At the edge of the clearing, each member of the group could see an empty campsite, fire built, and food laden all around. A roast boar with an apple in it’s mouth sat mounted on a tripod, a rack held several dragonfish and two rabbits, and over the fire itself a deer was roasting on a spit.

Aengus caught his breath as he realized what was going on. In areas such as this, far from civilization and the trappings of humanity, it was possible to cross from the World to the Feywild just by walking. They stood now at the far edges of the Beastlands, where it was said that a conjunction with the Feywild exists.

Iben, too, being familiar with tales of spirits, could understand what had happened. We are being invited to talk with Lady Snowshoes, he thought to himself, and stepped into the clearing, gesturing the others forwards.

On the very edge of hearing, but swiftly growing louder, quiet whispers could be heard.

“They have come! They have come!”

“Who has come? Who is here?”

“They have answered the call!”

“They are here!”

Realising he was in the presence of Faerie, Karl introduced himself with his full family name and rank, the other following suit with similar words. As each person spoke, they noticed that the animals and foodstuffs that were laid out around them were animatedly moving and wriggling on their respective hooks and spits, and the voices that could be heard were coming from them. As Iben spoke and introduced himself, the boar spat out the apple in it’s mouth and joined the chorus. With a start, Aldis noticed that it was the fish asking “Who has come? Who has come?” as their eyes were sewn shut.

Looking around on it’s spit, the deer nodded at Karl: “The Instrumentality1 has answered the call! So Far have his little feet carried him!” The fish wriggled as they hung and slapped their bodies together, creating the effect of a light smattering of applause. Looking across at Iben, the deer said “Kindraeder has answered the call, so pleased you have come! The herald they call him!” The fish applauded once more.

Confused, Aldis asked of the camp “What call? We have heard no call, we are travelling to Thruthgelmir.”

Looking back and meeting her gaze, the deer responded. “Wyrm has come, she comes to free her people. And the Eladrin, too! So cruel she was to summon him so, so cruel she was. Einherjar has answered the call! The Call That Does Not Sound!” With each announcement the fish slapped their bodies in applause.

“The Call That Does Not Sound?” asked the boar in a grunt.

“And yet he stands before us!” rejoiced the rabbits.

“And a human woman has answered the call,” continued the deer, “but not ours, not ours!”

“Not ours? Then whose?” grunted the boar.

“Perhaps her own? Perhaps?” asked the rabbits.

Trying to get a grasp on the situation, Aengus calls out “We have spoken with the Wailing Spirit of the Mountain, near Kindraed!”

The boar responded loudly “You must save us!”

The fish and rabbits chorused immediately, “Save us! Save us!”

The deer spoke again, saying “The end will come, the land will die. Faerie, too. You must save us! The lands are joined by lines – these lines must be severed.”

“You mean.. Leylines?” asked Aengus, calling on his knowledge of the natural world.

“Well…” began the deer.

“She will tell you, she who awaits at the end of the World!”2 interrupted the boar.

The deer continued quickly. “Beware Siegmund!” At the mention of this name the rabbits trembled and squealed with fear

“He tricks you! You have what he has not, and he wants it. He –“

A sharp snap of a twig sounded in the forest, off to one side, and in an instant, every animal went limp, the boar picking up the apple with its mouth again before falling still.

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Journeys With A Cake, Part 3

The griffon on the ledge, having felt as though it was going to have time to devour the ox in peace, was somewhat startled as Iben climbed past it and then leapt down upon it, striking hard with his axe. A second later, Aldis followed suit, her newly made helm adding to the ferocity of her charge. Under attack from sword, axe and spell the griffon panicked and tried to launch itself off the ledge to escape. Reacting, both Aldis and Iben took advantage and struck again, and the dead body of the raptor tumbled off the ledge.

Karl, riding the other raptor as it’s death-plunge took it towards the cliff wall, saw the second raptor fall of the ledge in front of him. He brought his feet up and pushed as hard as he could, springing clear at the last second as the two raptors collided and collapsed in a bloody heap. He hit the ground and rolled, coming up against the cart as he did so, breathing hard. The cool touch of Thunder’s hand helped him up, and as it did so Karl could feel renewed strength flow back into his limbs as the cuts on his head closed and healed.

Between them, Yuppi, Yetta, Aldis, Iben and Sigurd’s magical hand were able to bring the ox back to ground level. Working hard as best he could with the limited materials available and his own faith, Thunder was able to staunch the bleeding and bandage up the poor beast of burden before it died. With only a short walk to go before resting for the day, the ox was put back in the repaired harness and the group followed the path to the bridge.

Despite the narrowness of the bridge, the crossing was made safely. Moving into the woods, Aengus scouted around for a decent campsite. To Yetta and Yuppi’s surprise, he found an excellent site – a large, now-hollow tree that had been struck by lightning some years previously. With an open top and only one entrance, it made a great spot to wait out the night. Tinder was gathered by Iben and a fire lit, and the party settled down for the night. Aldis took time cleaning her armour, making sure each plate and piece gleamed as though new. Iben, who had taken the skull of the raptor he had slain, was working hard scraping it clean to add to his personal trophies.

Karl, meanwhile, was engaged in working with the feathers he had taken from the first raptor. Abandoning his usual impeccable cleanliness, he had begun to weave them into his hair.

Thunder took the first watch, needing less sleep than the humans, and at around midnight Aengus took over, his sharp eyes scanning the woods around him for any signs of movement. He knew wolves lived in these woods, and in harsh times they might be moved to attack.

Off to his left, about thirty feet away, a twig snapped as though someone had stepped on it.

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Journeys With A Cake, Part 2

Karl could feel the griffon’s talons digging into his skull as it went into a glide across the mountainside. Through the pain, he managed to find the concentration to use the magical powers of his cloak Time To Exit Stage Right and teleport on to its wings. Drawing his shortsword and clutching hard onto the griffon’s feathers with his other hand, he stabbed downwards and was encouraged to hear another scream from the beast in return.

Aengus, angry with himself at missing the approach of the griffon, launched himself into a flat run towards the edge of the path and hurled himself in a leap towards it. Seeing he couldn’t make it on muscle power alone, he utilized his fey heritage and jumped through the Feywild, appearing next to Karl on the beast’s back. Grabbing onto a handful of feathers, he spat a curse at the creature, dooming it to die.

Iben yelled and ran forwards, drawing his axe and scrambling down the slope to try and stay near the rapidly moving creature, as Thunder prepared a healing spell should Karl come back into range. Drips of blood from the Gnome’s head had splashed onto the rocks, and the Warforged feared for his friend’s safety. The raptor was moving rapidly away, beating it’s wings and flying as best it could with two unexpected passengers. It rolled from side to side, seeking to dislodge them.

With all attention on the griffon, the only warning the group had was a second yelling shriek from above as a second griffon, this one even bigger, flew down and seized the ox in it’s talons, lifting it high out of reach back up onto a ledge above. The ox was ripped out of it’s harness, and the cart began to slowly rumble forwards down the slope. Yetta wedged herself in front of it, her feet sliding on the scree.

Sigurd, seeing the cart move away from her, reached into her magical repertoire and conjured an Icy Hand spell. The magical construct reached out and grabbed the cart, lending it’s strength to help stop it rolling down the hill.

Karl stabbed frantically again, triggering the power of his sword This May Sting A Little and feeling it slide deep into a vital muscle of the raptor. He shouted in triumph, enjoying every second of the wild ride he was on. Aengus, in turn, created a freezing vortex on the griffon’s back but unfortunately the raptor’s constitution proved to be stronger than Karl’s, and he shivered in the magical cold, feeling it seep into his skin.

Turning, Iben ran back up the slope he had just descended and began to climb the wall towards the ledge of the second raptor, which was now busily attacking the loudly-lowing ox. He could see blood starting to drip down and the raptors beak came briefly into view, stained red. Aldis also began to climb, her Dragonborn limbs not quite as suited to the difficult terrain, but with determination she matched Iben in speed.

Thunder, meanwhile, had parked himself in front of the cart, and grabbed at the brake. Using every ounce of force he could muster, he forced it back into place and stopped the cart in it’s tracks. Glancing left and right, Thunder could see that Karl and the first griffon appeared to be circling back round, and Thunder kept a careful eye out for the condition of the Gnome. Blood had splashed on the rocks, and it was hard to see from whom. The griffon was trying to scrape Karl off against the rock walls, and he had swung back round underneath it as best he could.

Seeing the cart was now safe, Sigurd directed her magical hand to start climbing the rock wall, seeking to stop the second griffon from further injuring the ox. Looking up, she also fired a Ray of Frost up at it, impacting on it’s flank. Encouraged, Yetta and Yuppi began to climb up too, spears clutched in their hands.

Karl was now hanging on for grim death underneath the increasingly ferocious raptor. Summoning up his strength, he wrenched his shortsword free and plunged it back into the beast’s side. At the same time, he heard Aengus launch an Eldritch Spear into the side of the creature, and with a final croak, it died. Aengus was able to teleport free, but Karl suddenly realized with a sinking heart that he was now riding a dead griffon, at speed, towards an incoming cliff wall.

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Journeys With A Cake

Once all were dried and ready, the group began their journey. The cake itself was to be pulled by an ox, a huge but docile beast that placidly trudged along the narrow path. The cart itself was a modified mining cart, with the cake securely wrapped in blankets inside to keep it from getting damaged.

Yetta and Yuppi walked by the ox, keeping a careful eye on it. The path was frequently narrow, but the sure-footed beast walked along easily. Thunder and Aldis walked in front, guarding against any of the possible dangers that had been mentioned previously, with Aengus and Karl a further forty or fifty feet ahead of them, their eyes looking into every nook and cranny of the mountainous path. Behind the cart Sigurd and Iben guarded the rear. The plan was to make the first bridge crossing by nightfall.

As the path wound higher into the hills, the river dropped away. Yetta explained that it was named the River of Knives , so called because of the high amounts of iron ore found throughout the area. She pointed to the rocks that broke the surface of the water, and the group could see that some of them looked almost rusty. Yetta explained that difficult though this trail was for the cart, it was still easier than trying to navigate the dangerous and unpredictable river.

As the sun began to dip towards the horizon, the group reached the highest point of the days travel and began to descend again towards the first river crossing of the trip. The brake was applied to the cart and the ox was moved behind it to act as a further brake as it travelled downhill. The path wound through a twisting path towards a wooden bridge around fifteen feet across. On the far side of the bridge, woods clustered around the trail as it disappeared back up into the hills.

Although Karl and Aengus had kept a sharp look out throughout the day, tiredness had taken its toll. Their only warning was a harsh, avian shriek as a large form launched itself from an overhanging ledge. Thinking quickly, and hearing Yetta’s cry of “Raptors!” Karl used the magical powers in his gloves to conjure the scent of fresh blood. Diverted from its original target of the ox, the huge griffon instead latched on to Karl’s head with its talons and plucked him off the ledge.

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A Diving Contest, Part 4

Since arriving in the village, the Promise of Distant Thunder had been content to let the villagers believe that he was a man who chose not to remove his armour, rather than the Warforged he truly was. He glanced down at the villagers below, who were beginning to turn their heads back upwards in preparation for the next leap.

Rather than attempt to emulate the tumbling theatrics of Aengus and Karl, or the magical power of Sigurd, Thunder dived cleanly and directly into the water. Just before impact, he released a burst of radiant energy, causing a huge splash and making the water churn and bubble in dramatic fashion. Pausing underwater, he took advantage of his Warforged constitution to wait as long as he could before making his way back to shore, wading slowly out from the freezing water and keeping his face impassive. As he accepted a towel and began to dry his metallic body, he could hear the excited whispers of some of the village children. “He dived in his armour! He dived in his armour!”

This left Iben and Yuppi at the top of the cliff, standing side-by-side on the ledge. Yuppi grinned and gestured, but Iben shook his head. “Uh, you go first,” he said, trying not to let his nervousness show.

Yuppi nodded once, and with a mighty cry of “Lady Snowshoes!” he leapt out, stretching his arms wide and whooping all the way down. He hit the water cleanly and swam to shore, to be engulfed by his wife, Yetta, in a huge bear hug. The two grinned at each other, sure their efforts had brought good fortune on their forthcoming journey.

Iben stared again over the edge of the cliff, thinking to himself who he, who could overcome all fear and worry on the battlefield, could be so afraid as something so simple as a drop into water. Seeking reassurance, he went through his totems and fetishes, seeking comfort in their unfailing presence. Muttering prayers to every spirit he could think of, he took his life in his hands and made a mighty leap off the ledge. Screaming all the way down, he crashed into the water.

Dragging himself ashore, he felt as though his skin was on fire from the impact. Wincing, he looked up at Thunder mutely. “Iben, that was bravely done,” responded the Warforged. “But you are not truly injured. Kord teaches us that there is always a cost to achieving your goals. The pain will fade in time, but not with my help. You shall endure, overcome, and be better for it.” Iben nodded in understanding.

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A Diving Contest, Part 3

Watching Aldis’ dive, along with the others, had made Aengus acutely aware of the high standards that had been set. He wracked his brain for how he could live up to the now high expectations of the villagers below. Suddenly smiling, he ran forwards and leapt high, gracefully twisting and turning as he fell. A second before he would have hit the water, he travelled through the Feywild a short distance, reappearing in the real world some twenty feet higher up than he had left – in effect, hitting the water twice. Another huge cheer went up from the villagers at this display of prowess and mystical power.

Sigurd resolved that human wizardry should be acknowledged, too. Whilst the others had been leaping forwards, she had been quietly working on the words and gestures of a ritual, unknown to the others. As she stepped off the ledge, she cast Feather Fall upon herself and instead of plummeting down to the water she floated gently, passing by the other caves in the wall. At her speed of descent, Sigurd was even able to greet one woman who was watching as she passed, leaving her dumbfounded.

Further wonders followed when she made contact with the water. With the magical ritual protecting her, her feet did not break the surface and she calmly walked back over the water to the shore, leaving her shoes only slightly damp. The watching crowd were quiet, awed by her power. Yetta called out “It might not be of the tradition, but Lady Snowshoes will surely respect a show of power such as that!”

The man next to her retorted “Or else she’ll be so confused by the ways of these Auslanders that she’ll just choose to leave them alone!”

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A Diving Contest, Part 2

Emerging from the cave in which they had slept the night, the party gathered at the base of the cliff. The air was crisp and clean, the sun bright in the sky. The rest of the village crowded round the base of the cliff, near to the pool that the divers were aiming for.

As the group, including Yetta and Yuppi, worked their way up the winding path to the ledge, sometimes having to scramble and climb up the more difficult patches, they saw an increasingly fantastic view spread out below them. The ledge had to be one hundred feet above the river, and each member of the group quashed a tiny quiver of fear at the prospect of leaping off.

Seeing the discomfort more evident on some faces than others, Yetta spoke up encouragingly. “Remember, both Yuppi and I have done this before, and we’ve never been injured!”

“Well, apart from that one time…” interjected Yuppi quietly.

At the ledge, Yetta placed her back against the cliff wall, grinned and with a huge cry of “Lady Snowshoes!” she leapt forwards of the cliff and plunged down into the pool below. The watching villagers cheered and whooped in celebration.

“Right!” said Karl confidently. “Me next!” He too, placed his back against the cliff wall, and then paused. “Not high enough!” he announced, and turned and climbed up another twenty feet to a higher ledge. Grinning, his face appeared over the edge for a second. The next moment, he backflipped off the ledge and spinning and somersaulting he flew down to the calm pool, straightening out at the last minute and entering with barely a splash. Another huge cheer went up from the watching villagers at his bravery and showmanship. A cry of “Lady Snowshoes be praised!” came from several lips.

Breathing deeply and gathering her faith, the Dragonborn Aldis went next. As she dived, she looked behind her at the sky and breathed flame all the way down, drawing another gasp from the crowd. Surfacing, she stood for a moment in the cold water. Speaking for her ears alone, she said “Lord Bahamut – protect us on this journey and guide us through all our battles to victory!” Striding ashore, she gratefully received a large wollen cloak warmed at a fire and began to towel herself dry.

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A Diving Contest, Part 1

Once the forging of magic had been done, tired limbs rested and bellies re-filled with food, the group spoke once more with Yetta and Yuppi, the baker and blacksmith, respectively, of Wayweary. These two brave souls were the two that were to take the cake to Prince Kindrbode for his birthday celebration, and the adventurers had decided to journey with them. Apparently, since the Prince could only count to four, this was to be his fourth birthday party. No one in living memory could remember when it wasn’t his fourth birthday party.

Yetta explained the route to them. Using a rough map of the area as a guide, she pointed out the various dangers that lay in their way. “A cliff, the first bridge, through the woods, back across the river and finally through the snowlands,” she said, sounding almost happy at the thought of three days of hard marching. “Plus, of course, the creatures that will try and stop us. Raptors in the mountains, the Fisher King and his troll-kin servants in the river, and the ever present wolves may all try to take a bite out of us as we go.”

“The Fisher King?” queried Aengus. “That sounds ominous.”

Yuppi spoke up now. “The Fisher King is the father of all trolls. He lives in the river, old and foul, and preys on those that get to close. The only thing that he could possibly be bribed with is fish – they’re the only thing he likes to eat better than human flesh!”

A visible shudder went through the Eladrin at Yuppi’s words, as he pictured himself being slowly chewed upon by a group of troll-kin.

“But we won’t be prey to him!” announced Yetta. “We shall gain the blessing of Lady Snowshoes before we set off on our journey. We do this ritual every year, and it’s never failed yet.” She went on to tell the tale of Lady Snowshoes and how she came to marry Cleanfeet, Lord of the Sea. She had declared that she would marry the most handsome of all the spirits, but when the time came to pick her husband all the male spirits hid their faces under their cloaks, leaving only their feet exposed. Lady Snowshoes was forced to pick Cleanfeet, and although his face was not the greatest he was strong and powerful, always there and unchanging. It is said, however, that Lady Snowshoes has spent the years since their marriage sweeping his waters back into the sea – and popular retellings claims this is a tale of the importance of give and take in a relationship.

“How does this ritual work?” asked Iben keenly.

“All of us that are to journey will climb to a high ledge above the river, and leap forth into it. Lady Snowshoes will be impressed by our bravery and bless our journey,” replied Yetta calmly. Iben gulped, picturing the scene as the ground got closer and closer and closer and closer…

“Sounds fantastic!” piped up Karl, his gnomish face shining with excitement. “I’ll go first!”

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