The Outer Realms are in crisis. After nearly four decades of summer, winter has descended, bringing desperation and chaos with it. In the north, a growing horde of bugbears gathers beneath the great wall at Wulfric's Keep, while the town of St. Rufinus, once a center of faith and commerce, is rumored to be infested with undead after a mysterious plague killed most of the residents. Further south, small bands of bugbears and hill giants have managed to cross the thickening sea ice to prey on coastal villages and travelers on the Shepherds' Road.

You are one of such travelers. The convoy of oxcart sleds with which you were traveling was beset by a bugbear raiding party, and you were captured. After taunting and beating you, the bugbears bound you, piled you into the back of a sled with your fellow prisoners and lashed a tarp over you, which helped ward off the wind and cold but locked you in darkness for the length of the journey.

After a cramped and arduous journey of several days, the bugbears finally removed the tarp, dragged you into the sunlight and locked you in a crude circular cage made of narrow tree trunks driven into the frozen ground.You appear to be on the edge of a frozen bay, with mountains behind you and the frozen water stretching out toward what looks like a hazy shoreline far to the west.

Your situation is grim, and you know that if you are to escape, you must do so soon. You have no shelter, so you huddle together for warmth, but you still grow weaker with each passing night. Once per day, a small goblin brings you an iron pot of stewed, musky-tasting meat and a clay jug of half-frozen water, but it is so meager that you feel your body beginning to waste beneath your ragged clothing.

Will you be able to escape? Or will you meet whatever fate awaits you as prisoners and slaves?

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A Message to the King
The following is a transcript of the letter sent to Cuthbert, King of Myrce, by way of the two grugach elves freed from the Hill Giants' steading:

Unto His Majesty, King Cuthbert, Royal King of Myrce and Sovereign Protector of the Realm

Valindra Silverbark, High Priestess of Rillifane Rallathil, faithful representative of Winter's Bane, and Your Most Humble Sevant, sends her greetings

Your Majesty, I hope this missive finds you well. I write with urgent, and what I hope shall be welcome, news. Firstly, my faithful companions and I, Winter’s Bane, have mightily succeeded in accomplishing the task that your worship had set before us when last we spoke. Having trekked some four leagues north of your encampment, we learned that a large tribe of hill giants, the very ones of which you had spoken, had just completed the construction of a large timber holdfast and were in the process of making plans to directly assault your forces. We came upon these villains in the midst of a great and jocund merriment, a feast in fact, to which a variety of their loathsome allies had been invited. As per your instructions, we engaged the giants without delay, and, I am happy to report, prevailed in our endeavors. We slew virtually all their number and put fire to steading forthwith, thereby setting it ablaze and eliminating the threat that Your Majesty had so wisely and presciently identified.

Secondly, during our encounter, we discovered that an emissary of Constantine, Overlord of the Bugbear hordes, had been sent to the Hill Giant lair with the aim of brokering an alliance between the forces currently arrayed against us, and a tribe of Frost Giants led by one Jarl Grugnar. We gained this knowledge through the interrogation of a Frost Giant leader who had been guest at the Hill Giant feast. Moreover, we also learned from this loathsome figure that Jarl Grugnar has in his possession the legendary Orb of the Autumn Winds, a relic which we are most certain your Royal Wizards and Mystagogues would dearly wish to gain control of.

This being the case, my companions and I plan to journey north to Jarl Grugnar’s lair on the far shore of the Eastern Bight. There we hope to recover the relic and put as many giants to the sword as we may. We beg your forgiveness, Your Majesty, for not returning in person with this news straightaway, but given the portentous nature of our discovery, we deem it prudent to attack the enemy immediately and without delay. Until we meet again, may all the Gods of the North bless you.

Your Most Humble and Loyal Servants,
Valindra Silverbark and Winter’s Bane
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The Handsome Blacksmith
At the feast Rara overheard whispers amongst the women about this handsome fellow, Maddox the blacksmith, and then giggles as he approached. He offered to enhance the party’s weapons. Rara wasn’t about to hand over “Tenderizer” to just anyone, so she accompanied him as he hefted both Valindra’s and Solera’s swords over one of his broad shoulders. She soon found out they were lucky to have such a talented army smithy, his skills were far beyond repair and maintenance of old weapons and armor, in fact they were exceptional.

Maddox had erected several timbers, solid and fir, like his arms, and stretched canvas from his forge wagon, creating a sturdy structure for his smithy, not cobbled together like the other ramshackle wedge tents or lean-tos. The embers from his portable forge provided a welcome warmth from the bone-chilling cold. His tools were laid out in a tidy row in his orderly workspace. Rara helped him stoke the fire and gingerly began pumping his bellows with her wry lean body.

Shirtless beneath his leather apron, his hammer began to ring steady and then picked up pace on the anvil, massaging the hot malleable metal. A sheen of sweat covered both of their bodies. As impressed as Rara was with Maddox’s endurance and skills, he was enchanted by hers.

An artisan with gemstones and metals, Rara embraced the opportunity to add a special touch to her friend’s weapons. First, with Valindra’s sword, engraving leaves on the cross guard, then embedding tiny emeralds on either chappe in the pattern of a heart shaped leaf. And finally, recreating a “forget me not” flower in the pommel, five blue sapphires surrounding a yellow citrine. Rara had not exactly purloined, but reserved some of the best gems from their adventures. Maddox disappeared into his wagon momentarily emerging with a prize, a piece of greened leather, from the hide of a troll. It made the perfect new grip.

Next was Solera’s blade. The sword had a quillon block, thick and hefty for a cross guard, which provided a perfect place for a dazzling set of six and eight pointed snowflakes made from fine diamonds. At the center of each snowflake was a brilliant blue sapphire, similar to the color of Maddox’s eyes. Rara first caressed and then tugged one of Maddox’s hammers from his bench, and suddenly began to assail several diamonds bashing them into dust. With his hot breath, Maddox blew the scintillating dust from Rara’s tiny hands into the sword’s indented fuller. After tempering, the end result was bedazzling.

Spent and ravished, the two collapsed from their sweaty endeavor. Maddox fed Rara some left over mutton from his stores he kept in his wagon, while Rara, ever the naughty one, shared her flask, filled with Gogondy, a deep red gnomish wine. It had its usual effect on a human, Maddox promptly fell asleep after quenching his thirst.

She hastily got to work sculpting a piece of jewelry, twisting some wire and bits of metal into the shape of a hammer. In the middle of it she placed a ruby, the predominant symbol of the svirfneblin race. She left it there for the satiated Maddox.

The next morning Rara returned to the blacksmith, she saw that Maddox wore her gift around his neck from a rawhide lace. This surface dweller wasn’t so bad.
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Treasure from Hill Giant Steading
The hill giant steading turned out to be quite a haul. The treasure is below:

Belt worth 1400 gp
Silver comb with gems worth 300 gp
Copper mirror worth 200 gp
Hair pin with pearl worth 800 gp
Giant otter fur worth 2000 gp
Bear collar with rubies worth 1000 gp
Assorted jewelry worth 20,000 gp
Assorted gems worth 13,150 go
100 platinum pieces
2200 gold pieces
320 silver pieces

Total gp value: 42,082
Session: Game Session #23 - Sunday, Nov 03 2019 from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM
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The battle is over almost as soon as it began. Solera stands in the room, twin swords clutched in her hands, her breath coming in short ragged gasps. Smoke hangs heavy in the air. The marble floor is splattered with gore. Mother Grushenka; has been defeated; the Gate to Hell is closed; and their mission is over.

An incredible feeling of relief washes over her. Not relief to still be alive after this battle with the demons coming one after another through the gateway, though that is certainly a consideration. No. She feels relief that they have successfully completed their mission, that they have eliminated a major threat to the people of Myrce, and have taken a step closer to winning the war.

Yes. That’s it. burden of being responsible for others’ lives weighs much heavier than the constant threat of death hanging over them all. Solera thinks about that as she cleans her swords before sheathing them. Yes, it is a burden, but someone has to do it. Someone has to be the fucking hero.
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War Camp

Valindra enjoys her time spent in the humans’ war camp, and not just because it offers respite from the travails of battle. She likes to take time, especially in the evenings, and wander away from King Cuthbert’s pavilion at the center of camp. She can spend hours in the wonter dusk, strolling among the tents, wolf’s fur mantle and bearskin cloak drawn tightly about her slender frame. She loves the sights and sounds, the smells even, of the camp and the easy comradery of soldiers that has sprung up among them all. She knows many of them having stood with them in battle from the common farmer summoned to the fyrd by his lord to grizzled veteran of many campaigns.

Certainly, the mood in camp has improved remarkably over the last month. Their astonishing victory over the bugbear horde at the Battle of Tamworthig and then their defeat of the Mother Grushenka, the bugbear’s patron demon, have raised spirits considerably.

As she walks among their tents, the men look up from their dicing games or meager suppers of bread and hard cheese to gaze upon her. They grow hushed or cease their conversations as the elf glides by. It puzzles her, the awe with which the troops regard her and her companions. Of course she understands that they regard her and her mates as heroes, and she imagines that they indeed are. But Valindra has no desire to be revered by anyone, and she is made uncomfortable by the high regard with which the humans in camp hold her.

The camp bustles at this hour. Soldiers are lighting the cook fires. Nearby, a Sergeant dresses down a spearman for some infraction, the warrior’s head hanging low under the withering objurgation of his superior. A bard sings a mournful elegy for the dead from somewhere close. A trio of young women, sloven in appearance, jostle past Valindra mumbling apologies as they go. Camp followers, wanton rampallions most likely, seeking to earn some extra coin among the bedrolls. She smiles at the thought. At their youth.

It’s funny. Not so long ago, Valindra regarded most humans with utmost detachment and disdain, seeing them as clumsy, inelegant boors, short-sighted and vulgar in both temperament and philosophy. But now, walking through their camp in the chilly gloaming, smelling the wood smoke of their cook fires, listening to their songs and rough japes, she feels otherwise.

She has fought beside these humans, stood with them in the shield wall against a terrible foe. She has seen them vomit and shit themselves in fear, and she has seen them stand together in the red madness of battle to kill the enemy with steel and with fire. She has seen them at their worst and at their best.

She hopes the war will end soon so she may return to her forest and her life. Often she yearns for that future. To spend her days in quiet devotion to the Great Oak, tending a sacred grove in the heart of the forest, living a solitary existence but for the company of Helgi, Ursor, and Sasha. And the wind and the trees, and the earth. Yes, that will be a good life someday. But that day is not today. There is much to be done, and in fact, tomorrow they must begin their parlous mission into the hills to the north. But as she walks through the camp, she realizes that for the moment, she is home.
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