We race out of the mess hall, I have to push my way through the crowd. The men are running towards the bunkhouse and I pass most of them sprinting by. A sentry is standing there with his horn. I overhear him telling the first foreman to arrive that he heard a brief scream and saw a woman being carried away towards the river behind a timber pile but he couldn’t tell what had her. The sentry looked for the other watch who had gone to check on the barn and he is missing too. I go directly to the riverbank and can see no tracks. [fuck observation rolls!] I go to the barn and find some tracks that look like bear, but walking only on hind legs. They lead north and a little west through the forest but then start to turn back towards the river. I get to the river and see a solid bridge of ice before me. This was not here earlier. I lose the tracks on the bridge and the ice on the other side of the river. As I am trying to pick up the trail again I hear another scream, that is swiftly cut off. I run directly towards the noise.
It was already getting closer to dusk during dinner, but now in the thick of the forest it is truly dark. I can still see, but any hope of help from the lumberjacks fades with the setting sun. I hear a quieter whimper west of my location and take off towards it, running full speed. Which is why it is too late for me to react when an eight foot tall creature, its ice blue eyes peering from the dimness of the forest, rakes two sets of claws across my torso. Momentarily I feel paralyzed from the cold that permeates the wounds I receive, but I quickly shake the effects away [paralyze attack save!]. I roll away and come up swinging my sword, too close combat for my bow to do any good. I make a sweeping arc low to high across its body and then slice back down across his arm nearly cleaving it off. But the beast takes advantage of my closeness and strikes out with his remaining clawed hand, driving it into my chest and emitting ice and cold straight into the wound. I feel an ache that reaches my very bones, like my blood is freezing in my veins. While his claw remains puncturing my chest I grab his arm, keeping him in place, and force my sword deep into his torso, spilling his guts all over the snow. He finally releases me as he falls dead. I hear the howl of another further away in the forest. I cut this ones head from his body to reassure myself the beast is truly dead.
I lean over and support myself on a tree trunk as I uncork two of Yilly’s healing potions. One more blow from this creature and my run would have come to an abrupt end [yes, folks..it was that close]. What the hell is this thing anyway, I kick it’s dead body as I slink into the forest after the other one, drawing an arrow, readying my bow. I won’t be caught out again.
There is the briefest of movements to my left and I spin and shoot without hesitation. Only after releasing the arrow do I realize that it could’ve been one of the lumberjacks. But it was not. The second creature, covered in white fur the color of the snowy landscape, was trying to sneak around to my flank. Like the other it blends perfectly into the background, and the coldness that surrounds it eliminates my ability to read a heat signature in the dark. But now it’s wounded and pissed so it comes tearing through the clearing roaring it’s displeasure at my placement of an arrow in it’s shoulder. I think the beast expects me to flee so it can give chase and is entirely unprepared for me to run straight towards it, cutting to the left at the last moment, spinning and planting two more arrows into it’s broad back. It screams in fury and spins to strike me down, but I am no longer there. Using my momentum I pushed off of the nearest tree and reversed my course dropping one more arrow into him in the process. There would be two, except my bow string took this opportunity to break. [rolled an asshole 1] The creature falls to its knees, the arrow in it’s neck causing it’s breathing to be labored. I race towards it one last time drawing my sword and driving it through the beast, slicing it’s head away with a final stroke.
[mechanics note: this engagement occurred before the campaign was switched to 5e, hence Observation rolls instead of perception (not that I’m any better at those). The combat is a bit different in that Lily had a 3/2 attack plus she took a sharpshooter/sniper ability which meant she got a free shot if she had an arrow nocked and was within 30’. Which was almost always. The trick with keeping her alive during the first few levels of the adventure was to always have her fighting ranged and make hit and run attacks, never letting the opposition get close enough to strike. Which is why she almost died with the first guy, regrouped and stayed out of range for the second one. And yes, we’re playing with critical hits and critical misses…… I go through a lot of bow strings.]
In the distance I hear the lumberjacks coming through the trees. They may or may not be trying to be stealthy. They’re not talking or yelling….but they’re practically marching, their steps are so loud. I whistle and yell for them to meet me at the bridge. I don’t want them to mess up the snow so I lose the tracks. I meet a small group there and tell them where the creatures are. Four of them, the foremen, insist on tracking with me. They want to retrieve their people. We pick up the tracks of the one that had the girl and follow it to a cave with a large frozen “nest”. The girl is there, packed in frozen ice. She is unconscious with a bad head wound, but alive. A few minutes more and she would have died from the cold. I hack the ice away from her with my hatchet (blunt side!) Hab finds the other missing man that was on watch. He has a long gash across his chest, he probably died instantly. I have the 4 foremen wait in the cave while I scout outside looking for tracks, I can see no other signs that there are any more of these creatures than the ones I killed. I go back in and have Jukka and Ilax take the girl back to camp. I ask Hab and Hadad to break out the dead man’s body while I take a moment to check the nest. I let them know that I will be checking the creatures on our way back to camp. I have a sneaking suspicion that these two things were a mating pair, and I don’t want to run across any little hungry ice monsters in the forest. As I search the cave I see the bodies of some animals, deer, elk, and a smaller black bear. Zebulon was right, there was a reason the animals were avoiding this area. I look back at the other two who are just pulling the body out, “Zeb was right all this time, you know.” I say to them. Hadad actually has the decency to look a little sheepish and Hab nods at me.
Right before I’m about to turn away from the area something shiny catches my eye. I look closely at the thick frost covering the back wall and I can just make out a human form. I chisel away at the ice and break free the body of an older man. He’s wearing light traveling clothes. Based on his clothes I would say he was in the area in the summer or fall at the latest. Hab and Hadad come to inspect him and neither have seen him before. I check his person for any papers or something that might identify him and find nothing. He is wearing a ring, a necklace with a pendant, a bracelet and a pair of ornate bracers. He obviously had some money so perhaps he will be missed by his family. The jewelry is very distinctive so I can use it to ask around if anyone saw this man and knows who he was. I take it and log into my journal what was removed and make a quick drawing of the man for identification. We take his body, along with the deceased lumberjack, back to camp for a decent burial.
On the way back to camp I check the bodies of the creatures and sure enough one is a female. It doesn’t appear that she is pregnant or has given birth so I’m relieved there are no spawn anywhere. I make a sketch of them in my journal for identification later. The two men have crossed the ice bridge and are waiting for me when I come out of the forest. I cross and we agree that the bridge should be cut down just in case they weren’t the only pair in the forest. Using their axes and my sword we destroy the bridge, sending it’s pieces into the river. The camp is awake and active when we return. Jukka and Ilax had filled everyone in. Jukka approaches us and lets us know Chalerin is taking care of the girl and she’s going to be okay.
Then I realize all the talking has died down and all the lumberjacks are looking at me. I am the youngest person here, and inside I feel like the least experienced. I realize that these last few weeks I have felt like I’m barely keeping up with what’s happening around me. But I can’t let them know this…I can see by the looks in their eyes that they are relying on me to make them safe. In spite of the fact that I hate public speaking I take a deep breath, “The creatures have both been dispatched. There were two. I checked the area surrounding their nest and there were no additional tracks. They had been hunting large prey in the forest and have recently begun to move in this direction. Zebulon was right to be wary of that area.” I nod in his direction and if it wasn’t for the fact that we lost a man tonight I think he would be beaming. Instead he just stands up straighter and gives me a nod. I continue, “I will remain here tonight and patrol the camp along with your sentries, but I believe the threat has been eliminated.” There is a low murmur among the men as they look relieved but sad for the loss and go back to their bunks.
“We’ll have a burial tomorrow, I’d appreciate it if you could attend.” Hab tells me before he walks away.
“Of course, absolutely.” I reply. I wish it was my first graveside ceremony, but it’s not.
They have wrapped the bodies in shrouds and placed them near a lumber pile, packed in snow. I go into the mess to check on the girl. It’s one of the cook’s helpers I met earlier but I don’t remember her name. She is crying and shivering, but Chalerin gives me a nod that she’s OK. I grab a hot mug of tea and head into the darkness to start my patrol. To be honest I don’t feel that anything more will happen in the night. I’m pretty secure in the knowledge that both creatures are dead (the whole beheading thing and all) and there aren’t any others. But I realize that by pulling this all nighter it will put the lumberjacks fears to rest, and that too is part of my job, my duty as their Ranger. Finally, a few hours before dawn I decide to get a little sleep. I go into the mess hall, curl up with my weapons and gear right by the door.
After only a couple of hours I awaken to the sounds of the kitchen staff setting out platters and preparing for breakfast. I see that the girl who was attacked is working, I catch Chalerin’s eye and she waves me to her and hands me a cup of coffee. “She insisted” she whispers to me and shrugs. The men start filing in and filling plates, I join the queue and they stop, one taking my arm and leading me to the front of the line. They all have looks of quiet respect, it is very moving and I nod my thanks and get my breakfast.
As I sit and eat Hab joins me, “We’re having the memorial service after everyone has had breakfast. Would you like to say something?”
I can’t help but look very uncomfortable. “I’m actually not very good at public speaking” He cocks his eyebrow at me, “You seemed to be pretty good at it last night.”
“I realized what needed to be said, but that doesn’t mean I’m good at it” I say with a smirk.
“If you change your mind, let me know.” he says, not unkindly. I nod my thanks.
The day is bright and sunny for a change so I decide I’m going to sew up my coat on the outside porch. As I wish Hab a good morning and get up to leave I see the target I shot through last night with my arrow. They’ve moved it, arrow and all, to another place on the wall towards the front of the mess hall. Hab catches what I’m looking at and says “They’re keeping it as is. Kind of like a memento of your visit.”
“You know I usually retrieve all my arrows” I say to him in a mock challenging tone, eyebrows raised.
“Not that one” he replies…then adds “if you don’t mind.”
“Well, maybe it will remind them not to set the other Rangers up with ax throwing contests” I say with a sly grin as I turn to take my dirty dishes away. I can hear Hab’s chuckle behind me.
I spend some time repairing the rips in my coat very badly. Sewing isn’t one of my strong suits. But it will hold together well enough for now. The healing potions I took were enough to heal me most of the way up but the place where the beast hit me in the chest will scar. I am looking at the small star shaped red puckering scar tissue when Zebulon comes up to sit beside me.
“So you saw the beast then” he growls out. I look at him and realize that this is just the way he talks. Like he’s gargling gravel.
“Saw it, tracked it, killed it.” I reply.
“Told ‘em all I was right.” he gestures to the yard where the lumberjacks are milling around and working.
“You were. I don’t mind admitting it. They shouldn’t either.” I nod in the same direction. I reach in my coat pocket and bring out my journal, flipping it open to the pages where I drew pictures of the creatures. “This is what they looked like.”
Zebulon takes the book from me and studies the images closely. “I heard about these once. Called…..” he stares into the middle distance for a moment, “..called Snow Terrors, they are. Supposed to attack you with ice.”
I touch my scar, “I can definitely agree that it felt like getting hit with ice, but it was a claw.” I remember that in the Academy there was a brief mention in our Creatures and Beasts class about Snow Terrors. I think it was something like: invisible in snow, highly dangerous, avoid at all costs.
Zeb and I sit in a comfortable silence for awhile, I pick up my sewing again when he pipes up.
“Knew a guy who claimed to see one of those once before.” he states.
“Really? When? was it recently?” I can’t resist sounding a bit peeved that someone had warned them of these things and it was ignored. Zeb realizes my reaction and waves his hand in a “settle down” movement and starts again.
“No, no, this was goin on…30 years or more ago. When I was young and handsome.” he waggles his eyebrows at that. “Was a young cutter up near the base of the Griff. Came running out of the woods sayin he saw a beast as white as a ghost that came out of nowhere and tried to claw him. Blocked it with his ax and got away. We all gave him a hard time that he fell asleep in the trees and lost his ax in the snow. We gave that guy so much shit. Ended up being a good cutter though, big guy. Eventually retired and gots himself a bar in Dunn. Doing OK now I s’pose.”
After Zeb has trailed off for awhile I add “Sounds like he might’ve been telling the truth. He was pretty lucky if you ask me.”
“Yep. Jolly was always kinda lucky.” Zeb pushes on my arm to catch my eye. I look up and he’s gesturing towards the hill behind the camp. “Looks like it’s time now.” I see Hab and the other foremen gathering at the crest and all the “cutters” walking up to join them.
Zebulon and I walk together to the hill.