Last time in Portal to Dereth, Derfel and Snowimp had met up again after being away for many months. Together they planned a trip to help discover all the mysteries of Frore. They drifted off to sleep in their meeting place, thinking of what laid ahead.
I woke with a stretch glancing about the room with sleepy eyes. I noticed the fire had died down, but it had been well banked so the embers still burned bright. I took a deep breath, savoring the smell of the wood smoke. I sat up and smiled, swinging my legs off the bed. I knew Derfel had banked the fire before leaving and had graciously let me sleep in. He was catering to my lack of a disciplined life of late.
I got up, crossed to the hearth and began frying an egg. Once cooked, I bolted it down, pulling on bits of armor between bites. I slowed down after I almost fell into the fire while trying to put on my solleretes. I picked up my bow and opened the door, standing in the doorway a moment. I listened to the sounds of wildlife and the rush of the River Prospers waterfalls beyond the hill.
I walked to the well taking deep breaths of the cold, crisp air, letting it clear away the last of my sleepiness. I drew some water from the well and splashed some on my face before filling the flask in my pack. As I packed the flask away again, I belched loudly and patted my temperamental stomach. This, on the run lifestyle would take some getting used to again. Once ready to start the day I sent word to Derfel.
“Hail, my gracious vassal!”
“Hail, m’Lady! How did you sleep,” came his exuberant reply.
“Very well, thank you. Where are you?”
“I’m gambling at the moment trying to get us Lich Seals.”
“Oh, do we both need one?”
“Hmm. I shall pop home, grab some more supplies and meet you at Monty’s Den of Iniquity.”
“Fair enough,” Derfel replied, and I could almost see his smile.
I recalled home and headed to my chest to raid it of trade notes and arrows. I groaned under the weight of the pack and pulled out a Holtburg gem as I climbed the stairs. I rubbed the gem passing through the front door and felt my feet leave the ground as I stepped into the portal. As soon as my feet hit ground, I ran (with a definite waddling motion under the weight of my pack) up the road towards the Aluvian Casino.
Monty’s Den of Iniquity had moved into a grand building on the outskirts of Holtburg sometime back. The surroundings were much more comfortable for the players, even if the odds had not increased. I greeted Monty the Munificent as I passed through the front door of his establishment.
“Hail Monty,” I said with a wave.
“Hello and welcome to my new house! Isn’t this nicer than that terrible outdoor location? Boddry there sells a little pamphlet that will tell you our rules and sell you gambling tokens. Look it over, and if you think you have the favor of the Dame Fortune, gamble with my Games masters. If you want to gamble a precious little doll, come back to me.”
I bowed and left Monty by the door to greet the next suc… erm… customer. Boddry the Chancy called out to me as I drew near.
“Welcome to Monty’s Den of Iniquity. I sell liquor, rules sheets and gambling tokens. Don’t cause any trouble.”
I smiled and assured Boddry that I wouldn’t stir things up and purchased some high stakes tokens from him.
“Knock yourself out kid. Fortune favors the brave,” he said snidely. I simply smiled and headed towards my vassal standing at a high stakes table across the room with his back towards me.
“How fare you?” I asked as I approached him. He turned with a smile, his eyes sparkling.
“Found one here.”
“Good! I’ll try the Games master over across the way.”
“Yes m’Lady” he said turning back to the Games master.
I crossed the room and stood before the High Stakes Games master. I passed over a high stakes game token and the Games master looked at it briefly before palming it.
“Let’s see what Dame Fortune has in store for you.” With a quick movement of her hands, she passed a Lich Seal across to me. I laughed seeing it and shouted to Derfel.
“Got one first try!”
He smiled with a nod and walked towards me.
“Nice, shall we go and buff then?”
I nodded in agreement and we made out way back to Holtburg to make use of the people called buff bots.
There, a crowd of people stood about, magic flowing over a pair of them, as two others uttered magic words, washing protections over them. We stood in line waiting our turn. I gazed up at the sky and saw the glorious colors in the darkness as the first moon rose.
“Look at the sky! A beautiful night,” I exclaimed.
“Aye, and a cold one,” Derfel agreed looking up as he lowered his tall frame to one knee in the line.
“Indeed, the clear ones are colder.”
Our turn came and Derfel’s eyes scanned the surrounding area as the magic washed over him.
I stepped to the edge of the hill after the magics were cast.
“I believe I am prepared now,” I said, putting my bow in its place.
“As am I,” Derfel said with a grin visible through his helmet.
“Our first stop is Arwic,” he added, turning to run down the hill towards one of the stone caves that held portals.
“I follow you,” I laughed trailing after him.
We passed through the Arwic portal and paused outside the city walls. Derfel asked if we needed any more rations, as the next stop would not be the best place to purchase them. I told him I had plenty and off we ran again, away from the city.
Our next destination was to an outlying building near Arwic. We did not go in to visit the occupants, but instead Derfel led me to the portal that spun nearby. We paused in front of it and I noted that it was to some place called, Mountain Shortcut.
“Ok this way. Be prepared for a rough welcome on the other side.” I nodded to him, pulled my bow from my pack, and stepped through the whirling light. By the time my feet touched ground, Derfel had killed the waiting menace and was standing amidst a small pile of bodies with a grin on his face, and blood dripping from his sword. He wiped the blood from the sword and sheathed it.
“All done,” he snidely remarked and I called him a show off with a laugh.
We started again, passing yet another cottage in the pass, but not stopping. We ran as quickly as the newly falling snow allowed, past portals and groups of creatures. As we passed a herd of Mattekars, Derfel spoke to me.
“The cold and hunger have driven them down this far south.”
“I’m not surprised, it’s a very cold year.”
Derfel was a fair distance ahead of me and as I crested a hill a group of Drudges attacked me. I quickly drew my bow, placing a Deadly Fire Arrow to string and drawing back. I hit one, but not hard enough. Derfel turned to see what was happening and quickly returned pulling his sword from its place and swinging at the back of the beast nearest him. I stepped aside and managed to land another arrow, dropping one Drudge, then shot one at the second beast who was striking Derfel’s armor.
Derfel slashed across the Drudges belly before him and swung around quickly, not bothering to watch the dead creature die. My arrow struck the Drudges side as Derfel’s sword dug deeply into his belly. The Drudge let out a cry and fell back, dead, in the snow. We nodded to each other and continued our run over the snow.
“Let’s keep to the high ground,” Derfel shouted back at me as we ran up the side of the pass. Below us, small groups of various animals huddled together. We took a small dip into the pass at one point to grab the chance at a runed chest which was guarded by some Shadows, but we found nothing of great interest.
Derfel paused for a moment and took out his map, looking about for his bearings. He read over some notes he had and nodded, rolling the scroll back up and putting it away.
“Ok, we are near the next portal we need to take,” he said a bit breathlessly. I stood panting and acknowledged this bit of information with a nod, my mouth too dry to talk. A drink could wait we were close. Derfel turned and headed off, I was close behind. We approached a portal and Derfel drew his sword and looked at me. I nocked an arrow and drew back the string before nodding and stepping into the purple light with him.
We landed to the sounds of weapons swinging and hitting on armor. A blow sent me back a step or two before I was able to see what was striking at me. I shot the arrow at the Tumerok Major and hit him. Derfel was in a fight of his own, and I fired off three more shots. The Tumerok dodged one arrow, to be impaled by the other. Derfel had killed his quarry, and started towards the Tumerok when I fired once more and dropped him. We stood for a moment catching our breath.
“If we need rest, best not do it here.”
I nodded at his words, feeling a bead of sweat run down my face. I was out of shape for this.
“I’ve heard some quite suspicious things about Bandit Castle,” he mused.
“I am still fresh, let us press on for now.”
No sooner had we started down the path and an Altered Drudge took chase. We easily put him down and kept on up the hill towards the castle. High walls surrounded Bandit Castle, but still one could see the beauty of it. There were indeed many stories of strange things going on, in, and around the castle. We neared the front gate and Derfel turned to the right, looking back over his shoulder as he shouted.
“To the north east.”
He pointed in front of him as we ran.
The wind blew and howled around us as we headed up the slope.
At one point, Derfel had to hunt for the right way to climb the peak. I watched as his feet dug into the snow. The pitch was so steep as we wove our way up, it was like climbing a ladder. Derfel paused and looked around him.
“I think this is the one,” he said pointing at a steeper slope. We reached the top at last, and found a Magma Golem waiting for us. I took out some Deadly Frost arrows as Derfel charged, sword in hand. He hacked at the beast, bits of smoldering Golem flying through the air. I fired a couple of chilly arrows into him, hitting hard. Soon the monolith lay dead in a heap with Derfel standing laughing over him.
“Good shooting.” I smiled, tucking my bow away and walking towards him.
I had almost reached where Derfel was standing when he bent over to search the corpse, and disappeared! I froze for a moment, wondering where he was. Was this some kind of trick? Was it magic? I ran to where he had been and realized it was near the edge of the peak. Carefully I walked to the edge and looked over.
“Derfel, Derfel… are you ok?”
“OUCH! My foot slipped.”
“Are you alright,” I called out down the mountainside.
“Aye, I’ll find my way back up,” his reply echoed above the sound of the wind. I waited and watched for him, careful not to slip on the patch of ice. At last he came into view and paused at the top, placing his hands on his knees and fighting for breath.
When he stood up I could see the sweat on his brow. I snatched my orb from my backpack and cast a spell to give him a bit more stamina. I took care of his wounds as we talked.
“Must have… lost my footing… totally a mistake too, that was,” he said breathlessly, but with a smile.
“These slopes are treacherous.”
“Tell me about it,” he laughed with a wink. I heard that there should be a clue left for us here.” Derfel glanced around as I packed the orb away. He began to move down the slope of the peak and I followed behind, suddenly drawing up short and taking a deep breath.
“Aha! What a view!” Derfel headed down the steep, icy slope to a stone erected at the very edge of the slope. My stomach lurched as I gingerly made my way down the slope, trying not to think about slipping and sailing off the cliff. I looked up and saw Derfel standing near the precipice. My mouth went dry and my heart pounded in my chest. He turned and saw me frozen on the slope.
“Have I mentioned my fear of heights,” I asked weakly. I swallowed and tried to still my shaking hands. Derfel walked back up to me and laid a hand on my shoulder, looking at me with genuine concern.
“You going to be ok Snowy?”
“Aye, just a bit weak kneed at the moment,” I said, making a rather feeble attempt at a smile.
“Heart of a Dragon eh?” Derfel smiled at me, trying to be supportive. He helped me down as far as a sign posted near the stone, then he walked to a note laying in the snow.
I took my mind off where I was by reading the sign.
In our explorations of these majestic peaks, we of the Dereth Exploration Society sought out these standing stones mentioned in the rumors of common men. We have, however, been frustrated by the peculiar magicks of the stones. It seems that agents of the remaining Gelidites have enchanted them such that a transcription of their text may only be made once a week by a given person. Our initial surveyor thus lost a precious Dericost Seal here. Perhaps the intention was to keep humanity out of Frore’s tunnels. All it has accomplished is to ensure that a party must seek out all three stones, and arrive at Frore in numbers.
I thought about these words for a moment, trying to piece it together. Derfel in the mean time had found the note and was reading it.
“Listen to this,” he said reading it aloud. “It’s a Hasty Note. It says A day out of Arwic, we found this. Thank goodness Palomar had among his relics that ancient seal, taken from a Lich Lord. Sir Joffre is ecstatic, and is sure we are on the proper path to find legendary Frore. He believes the Gelidites stopped here while searching for a suitable site for Frore. Why this place was rejected is imponderable – it certainly seems remote enough! The view of uncouth MacDugal’s Castle from here is fabulous. If only we had brought a skilled artist. On to see Lady Tallial at Neydisa Castle!
“Amazing,” he exclaimed as he finished reading it. “This was discovered by Sir Joffre, a Knight of the Golden Flame of Aluvia! Apparently, they believe that the Gelidites stopped here themselves looking for a location for their city. Well, let’s see if these seals work.” Derfel took the round seal from his pocket and stood before the stone, palming it and pressing it against the rounded indentation in the standing stone. It turned with a grinding noise. A small aperture opened before Derfel’s eyes.
“Anything of interest,” I asked as he looked inside.
“Just scraps of parchment in here” he said as he gathered up the notes and stowed them in his pack.
I used my seal upon the stones, took out the unreadable parchment, and packed them away. Derfel was looking at the standing stone, studying the carvings on it. I moved towards the edge of the cliff, trying to see the Castle below. As I stood gazing into the valley, I heard Derfel’s voice behind me.
“I can’t quite make out the runes, although the journal page there mentions Neydisa.”
“I can not make out the castle, can you,” I asked as Derfel came to stand beside me.
“No, it could be either old Empyrean magics hiding it, or just the weather.” I rubbed my eyes and looked again, still nothing.
“Ok, to Neydisa? It’s quite a ways away.” I nodded and turned slowly to carefully make my way back up the slope. We passed the standing stone and as I began the climb up the steepest parts, my foot slipped and I let out a yell as I slid down a few steps.
“Stupid ICE!” I shouted as I got on all fours trying to get better traction. Derfel offered his hand to me and I gratefully took it.
“Careful, watch the footing.” I nodded and together we made it to the top of the peak again. Derfel glanced around real quick and then took out his map.
“Instead of trying to find the way down again, let’s recall to the last drop off and go from there.” I agreed and we recalled to the drop near Bandit Castle. We quickly killed the Ashen Bones that greeted us.
“This is the road to Neydisa,” Derfel said as he led the way. It was a beautiful day and the snowy landscape soothed the soul as we ran along the cobbles.
“Going to be a beautiful run,” I said breathing in deeply of the pine scented air.
“Aye, some of the best scenery in the land,” Derfel shouted back over his shoulder.
Join us next time as the story unfolds!