The longest winter

Running like Clockwork

The fate of the Gnomes is revealed

The Party

Elden Spirefield (player missing; played as N.P.C.)
Frank Wyvernstooth (played by Steve)
Marellian Ironcore (played by Dave)
Loraella Ironcore (played by Leanne)
Rayne (player missing; played as N.P.C.)

Arissa (N.P.C.)
Fuddlemore (N.P.C.)

After a good night’s sleep, Marellian prepares his spells for the day, and then reads out what he can from the shredded journal. He is confused by the fact that he has read the passages in a random order. Shrugging, he puts the papers away, and the party prepare to leave the shelter of the ruined watchtower.

Shortly after leaving the watchtower, they come across strange regular patterned shapes in the snow. They set about uncovering some to reveal worked stone blocks. Marellian is excited, wondering what ancient city these once belonged to, but there is no way to work this out, and the party do not have the time or manpower for an extended dig, so leave them for some future expedition.

After a few hours of wading through the snow, The party spot a large herd of elk making their way north-east. Frank decides to hunt one down, but his scent carries on the breeze and gives him away. The elk herd run off, with Frank chasing. The others call him back, explaining it’s not worth the energy to chase them, and he grudgingly returns. He explains that it is his birthday tomorrow, and he fancied something tastier than trail rations to celebrate it with.

A few miles further south-east the party spot a figure running towards their direction. It is apparent that this figure hasn’t seen them, and it is stumbling and holding it’s side. As it gets closer, they see that it is a human male, with dirty clothing and an unkempt look. He sees them too late, and a look of fear crosses his face, before he realises they are not part of the group following him. He begs the party to save him, explaining that he will be burnt on the sacred pyre for running away. As They take this in, they hear the sound of hunting dogs, and a trio of handlers with their hounds come into view. The leader of the hunters calls out to the party, congratulating them on capturing their runaway, who has led them quite a chase these last few weeks.

The leader of the hunters, whose name is Druses, explains that they are from a place called Eldrene. Arissa murmurs that El-Dren-eh means the wounded land, which surprises the hunters. Druses asks her how she knows the ’king’s tongue’; to which she replies that in her land it is the ‘noble tongue’, and as she is of the noble class, she is expected to know it. One of the dog handlers mutters to Druses that Arissa has ‘Fire kissed hair’. Marellain asks if there are no red heads in their land, and Druses explains it is very rare, and seen as a gift from the fire god they worship. There is a prophecy about a ‘Queen with fire kisses hair’ who would come from afar and be found by a fool. Elden wisely holds his tongue about which fool did the finding…

The party are reluctant to let the hunters take the runaway serf back, and are suspicious about Druses asking Arissa if she would accompany them back to their land. Arissa is torn between staying with the party and being feted as a queen in a land that is solely human. In the end, her prejudices win out, and she decides to leave with Druses. Marellian tells Druses that the party will accompany Arissa to make sure she will be alright, but Druses tells them Eldrene is many days to the east, by the God’s forge mountains. Marellian still insists they could go there, but in the end the party decide that if the hunters stay with them until they reach the white crystal cliffs, that will give the party time to know them better. Arissa, to her credit, claims the runaway serf as her servant, saving him from any harm. Druses is not too happy, but cedes to her wishes.

As the white crystal cliffs come into sight, Druses insists they must now head eastwards, and bids the party farewell. Marellian still has his doubts, but waves them goodbye with the others. He tells Arissa if she ever needs them all she needs to do is write. Arissa thanks him for his kindness, and heads off east with the hunters. Elden is relieved he no longer has to babysit her as she had no combat skills.

The party head southwest, in order to find the pass that leads up onto the top of the white crystal cliffs. Now that the cliffs are close by, they can see a large black cloud that seems to hang atop the plateau. Marellian muses that maybe it is a sign that the gnomes are busy working up there.

While heading southwest, the party meet a small group of fur clad figures who are travelling north east. several of the figures are pulling sledges, while others are at the helm of dog-sleds. The first thought is to hide and see who it is, but Marellian thinks it might be gnomes, and hails them. The leader pulls back his fur hood, to reveal a human face, blond haired and with a beard. He answers Marellian’s hail and tells them he is surprised to see travellers this far north.

After introductions, the party find out that this is a small band of Ignoi from the Rheon clan, led by a warrior named Toracteha (Tor for short). Tor asks them if they have ever dealt with the tribes before, and the party shake their heads. Tor calls for a yurt to be raised, and gathers them inside to get to know each other better.

A strong drink, called Charka is brought out in drinking horns. Tor explains that tradition and ritual is very important to them, and that the Charka must be sipped while discussions of news are exchanged. The party tells him a brief version of why they are headed to see the gnomes, and he replies that the tribe has traded with the short ones before, but that the black cloud put them off this year; there have already been too many ill omens. He explains that the tribe are split and wandering (according to tradition) after the death of the chieftain. The band here are his family and retainers. In this way there is no blood spilt between the main rivals for the cheiftaincy.

Tor explains they are headed northwards following the migration of the Elk. It is early this year, but he has seen ill omens; 3 days ago they saw the ‘Grinning man’, which everyone knows is a sign of doom. Luckily the Grinning man was headed southwest, and did not veer towards them. The party reveal they have not heard of the ‘Grinning man’, so he tells the the tale of the Grinning man.

After the Charka is drunk, the trade of goods is made. Elden finds that Tor has a greatsword that his grandfather took from the body of a half-giant he had slain, and trades it for some jewels. Some other trinkets change hands, but Marellian had talked earlier about reading about something in a book, so Tor brings forth an ancient heirloom: a very old book. He reveals that he will trade it for something just as valuable. Marellian asks if he may have a look at it first, and discovers it is a Tome of understanding- a very valuable book indeed. He doesn’t have anything valuable enough, but Loraella does… so he manages to persuade her to trade her gem of true sight for the book, and gives her a magic ring instead.

While Marellian is trying to persuade his sister to give up her most valuable item, Tor invites Frank to come and stay with his family next year at the ‘Great Thing’. Frank asks what sort of thing, and Tor explains that after a year of wandering, the tribe meet to pick the new Chieftain. There are games and hunts and trials of strength; he’s sure Frank would enjoy it. Frank aggrees, and asks where it is to be held. Tor tells him that ‘He who was left behind’ knows the way. On seeing Frank’s puzzled look he explains that is the name they call Ambassador Garthane of Flintharrow.

The yurt is pulled down, and the tribe members hug all the party members, and wish them good luck with their task. Tor waves them off with a ‘Make sure you come see us next year’, which Frank has to explain. Elden thinks that the tribespeople were very friendly, but Rayne is a bit annoyed that one of the small children kept trying to pull her tail.

Finally, the party reach the marker that shows the trail up to the plateau, only to find the trail has become overgrown. Luckily, Frank can read the signs of where it was, and they climb the cliffs quite easily. It winds it’s way up a switchback in the cliffs which may be traversed two abreast, with good footing. They make good time, but at the top are met with the black cloud, making it hard to see far ahead.

While making their way through the smoke, they find a smoke mephit. It teases them and tries to have fun at their expense, but luckily Rayne speaks it’s language, and tells it they will not put up with any of it’s tricks. It moans they are no fun, and wanders off to find easier targets. As it leaves, it mutters it hopes they go round in circles in the smoke, but Frank’s trailfinding is good enough for them to reach the outer wall of the monastery easily.

On finding the gate, Marellian calls out to the Gnomes for help, but there is no answer. The Gate to the complex is barred on the inside, but Marellian uses a knock spell to open it, and Frank pushes it open. As they enter the courtyard, they are met by two clockwork hound Watchdogs, one of which howls at them, a sonic attack that staggers most of the party. The other lashes out at Elden with it’s tongue, Tripping him.

Frank charges the howling watchdog, and smashes it to bits in two hits. This causes it to explode, showering Frank with debris. Meanwhile, Elden struggles to his feet, while the watchdog bites him. Marellian, Rayne and Loraella, wary of an explosion, back away from the battle, using long range attacks, while Frank flanks the watchdog, hitting it and causing another explosion.

After the battle, Marellian heals Elden and Frank, before they explore further. They find a small building to the south of the courtyard, and a larger one to the north, before a strange headless creature, stitched together from various pieces of flesh comes shambling round the corner of the building at them. This flesh golem flails at the party, slamming Elden with both arms and sending him backwards. Marellian uses his acid darts on it, while Rayne uses her Abyssal claws and tears into it. As it falls, a small flying eye with clockwork wings comes flying into view. It surveys the party, before darting away again. They all look at each other, wondering what is next, but nothing else happens.

Wary of further attacks, the party explore the courtyard further, but there is nothing else to fight. The small building turns out to be a smithy, complete with a mechanical smith, but the smith does not move, even when they touch it. Marellian surmises it must be ‘turned off’. With nothing else of interest left, they head to the door of the larger building.

This door is also locked, and Frank asks Marellian to do his knock spell again. Marellian replies he only had one prepared, so Frank readies his axe to smash down the door, knowing it will attract too much attention but having no other option. Luckily, Marellian suddenly remembers he has a scroll of knock in his possession, which allows them to enter quietly. They find themselves in a corridor which ends at a ‘T’ junction. From this junction the passage west has two wooden doors on the south side, and ends at an iron door, while the passage east has one wooden door on the south side, and also ends at an iron door. Using her new ring of x-ray vision, Loraella determines the first door to the west is a cloakroom, while the second door west seems to hold a stairway. There is another of the headless flesh golems in the stairway armed with a mop and bucket; it seems to be cleaning the floor. She is unable to penetrate the thick metal of the iron door.

Rather than open any of these doors, the party decide to check the door to the east. Once more Loraella uses her x-ray ring, revealing what was once an office, but now seems to have iron bars penning in an old Gnome. Happy to have found a Gnome at last, Marellian decides they should open the door and talk to him.

The Gnome tries to hide as the door is opened, but appears when Marellian starts to talk. He is relieved to see them, and asks if they can free him. Frank uses one of Marellian’s vials of acid on the bars, weakening them so that he can snap them off (although he thinks he could have bent them apart easily anyway) so that the Gnome can exit.

The Gnome is in a bad way; he hasn’t eaten in days, and survived by licking condensation off the window. Marellian offers him food, and heals him. He reveals that he is callen Terelinn Fuddlemore, and was a teacher here at the monastery. He tells them he is possibly the last surviving Gnome here now, and tells them the tale of The Clockwork Curse .

Terelinn is able to supply the party with details of how the monastery is laid out, and they decide to head straight upstairs, where they believe they will find further evidence of the clockwork Gnomes. As they head for the stairway, they are met by two of these Gnomes. They each have weapons grafted in place of hands. One of them yells to the party there are no limits to the power of Tech-Gnome, and they both attack.

It seems that the Gnome’s statement proves false, as they are both taken down easily by the party with only minor injuries caused. Marellian heals these scratches, and they prepare to climb the stairs….

To be continued..

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BarryParker

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