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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Whisper in the wind

Solera wrapped her arms around Valindra a little tighter. Not because she was afraid she would fly off the flying stag, but because it felt so good to hold her.

She decided tonight was the night she would share her feelings. After they took out these bug bears, she would tell her. She could not go on pretending everything was the same.

There was a couple of time, with her arms wrapped around her, that she almost said it. But she knew she would not hear it over the wind passing by as the flew. Plus, she felt it would lead to a longer talk. If Valindra did not feel the same way, she would need to assure her that it would not impact their friendship. If she did, they would need to talk about how it would impact their relationship.

Solera leans her head against Valindra’s back and whispers, “I love you” into the wind.
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We Are All Heroes
Rara and Diogenes sat across from each other with a small campfire in between. An occasional pop or hiss from the fire would accompany the loud rumbling of the bug bear’s empty stomach. Bound and gagged, they did their best to ignore him. His reflective eyes glowed a deep orange from the crackling flames. Rara dipped her hardtack into the hot water, trying to soften up the horrid meal. Diogenes did the same. She offered him some of her jerky, but he declined. A gust of wind pelted them both with blowing snow, they cinched their traveling cloaks even tighter. “Getting colder,” mumbled Rara. “Yep,” countered Diogenes.

In the distance several soft “whoomps” were just audible, definitely not thunder. The sky in the direction that Valindra and Solera had headed a while ago now had a reddish glow.

“I guess that’s that,” said Rara turning her head from the sky back to Diogenes and then letting her gaze settle on their prisoner. “Yep,” responded Diogenes.
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Clarity in Pain
Solera was engulfed in flames. The pain was so excruciating, she did not even realize that she was releasing a blood-curdling scream.

She could see Ainorei’s burned and crumpled body between the waving tongues of fires and there was nothing she could do for her.

She could not see Valindra and could only hope she escaped the burning hell she herself was in. It was at that moment, at the edge of possible death, that her feelings for Valindra clarified. This was not passing fancy. What she felt was love for the druid elf. Thinking about her love for Valindra did not rid her of the pain, but it gave her the strength to fight through it.

She vowed to herself if, no when, she survived this, she would tell Valindra of her feelings. Although she was thought the feeling was mutual, she was not sure. But Solera did know that either way, she needed to tell her.
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I’ve Got My Eye on You
The fireballs were devastating. Rara kept her back flat against the wall. If another attack came her way, she didn’t know if she would survive. They discovered that the sorcerer was encased in some sort of anti-magic shield but normal weapons could pierce it. She wish there was something she could do. An idea started to form in her little head. She stole a quick glance out the window, trying to estimate the number of paces across the courtyard. Hasted and knowing she could outrun everyone else, her best estimate was that she could cover the distance in one shot. One other thought flitted across her mind, “Does anyone have an invisibility spell? Potion? Scroll?” An assertive round of “No’s,” was her answer.

A split second later, “I have a ring!” It was Blair. She sprinted across the open porch archway, putting her life at risk. “Thank you,” Rara sputtered, “You’ll get this back.”

"By a hairless gnolls balls! What is he doing?!" Rara’s eyes tracked Diogenes as he sprinted across the courtyard, making a bee-line for the Orb.

Valindra makes a run for it, just an instant before Rara. They make it across the yard, around the lifeless body of the summoned purple worm, into the two story house. Valindra pauses in the front room while Rara breaks for the stairs. Although invisible, she stops suddenly on the mid-floor platform. Sucking in her breath, Caliban the Mad is right in front of her. He brushes past her on the way down, just making contact. At the bottom of the stairs, the mad sorcerer cast a wall of fire, attempting to block off anyone else from entering the house. Rara hears screams rising above the crackling flames. Solera and Ainorei, both caught in the raging fire. Valindra makes the difficult decision of attacking Caliban instead of rushing to her love. Heated by anger or rage, she lets the crazed sorcerer have it!

With a thud, Ainorei’s lifeless body collapses to the floor. Consumed by her own rage, Rara swings at Caliban with all she’s got. Death has come for the madman as well. The flames disperse, so do the magics creating the illusion of wealth and opulence, leaving just a plain round tower room.

A celebratory Diogenes holds the orb aloft, to show the gathering crew, but his smile quickly disappears as he seesAinorei’s smoldering body being carried across the yard. Blair rushes over, a heated discussion takes place, a plan is formed, she will attempt to restore life to Ainorei’s breathless body.

They solemnly make their way to the river. Aboard their little “Shrimpkin” Blair prepares for the next day’s ritual. A fretful Rara needs to keep her hands busy. With bits of metal, she constructs a necklace. At the end of it dangles an open eye with an inset diamond. She softly and carefully raises Ainorei’s head and places the charm around her neck. Wiping a tear, Rara mutters quietly, “May the Gods watch upon you. And if they don’t, I pledge to you, I will.”
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Night on the River


It is cold on the river at night. Shrimpkin, the strange magical boat found in the otherworldly caverns beneath Bald Mountain, carries them downstream and away from the Fever Valley, the dark waters hissing and foaming along her spell-stitched strakes. The craft needs no means of propulsion other than the will of its pilot, Valindra, who crouches in her stern, exhausted but vigilant, keeping a watchful eye turned on the shore slipping past just at the edge of her vision.

The elf draws her bearskin cloak more tightly about her slender form to ward off the chill, and reflects on what has happened. The fight against Caliban had been tough, much tougher than they had expected. They have recovered the Orb of Summer and have fulfilled this part of their mission, but the cost has been great. So great. She looks upon poor Ainorei’s corpse lying in the boat’s bottom, safely wrapped in a canvas tarpaulin. At first light, they will put ashore, and attempt a mighty ritual that Blair claims will call the gnome’s spirit back from the realms of the dead. She hopes this will work. Blair has never been wrong about such matters before, but until then, Ainorei is gone.

And the cost could have been even greater.

Valindra looks upon Solera who lies asleep in the bow, head resting on the rune-etched gunwale, her face all but hidden in the shadows of her fur cowl. When Caliban had called forth the inferno that engulfed both Ainorei and Solera, Valindra had been concentrating on controlling the fire elemental that she had summoned from its own plane of existence and bound reluctantly to her service. Ainorei had made no sound, perhaps killed instantly in the conflagration.

But Solera had screamed.

Valindra thinks she may never forget that scream. She can almost still hear it now, the snow elf’s howl of agony as the flames engulfed her. She had wanted to run to her, to plunge into the fiery maelstrom and drag her forth to safety, but to do so would have required her to relinquish control of the elemental, allowing it to run amok and turn on them, perhaps killing even more of her friends. And so she had maintained her focus and control despite Solera’s screams ringing in her ears, despite the kettledrums throbbing in her chest. That had been one of the hardest things she had ever done.

Overhead, the moon suddenly appears through a jagged rent in the clouds, and Solera’s dragon-scale armor gleams in the silvery light. Valindra looks upon her sleeping friend’s delicate visage illuminated thus in the moonlight and feels a sudden aching inside. As long as I am by your side, she thinks, I will defend you with my life. If you ever fall, then be assured that I will fall as well defending you. Ironic, she thinks, that she should feel so protective of one so utterly capable of defending themself, but she feels this way nevertheless. She is not entirely certain if Solera harbors similar feelings for her, but this matters not.

Glad that her friend is resting, Valindra turns her watchful eye back toward the murky shore gliding past in the moonlight. It will be dawn soon and there is much to do.



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