Episode 2: Don't Eat The Fish

Captain Larustah greets the adventurers at the docks, where his crew are diligently loading the Frostskimmer with supplies. The ship itself is reminiscent of a weatherworn Viking longship, open-decked with twenty positions for oarsmen on each side, huge furled sails, and a beautifully carved wooden figurehead. He tells them they’ll be ready to set sail in about fifteen minutes, so Moon offers to stand guard over the loading procedures to make sure that the crates of supplies are not interfered with or stolen, while the others stash their belongings up at the bow of the ship.

Loli strides over to the Captain, grinning aimiably.

“’Ow long will it take us to get to the Sea of Movin’ Ice?” she enquires, looking up at the large man and trying not to ask him about the mask that covers the left half of his face.

He turns to look down at the gnome.

“Aarh,” he replies in true pirate fashion. “It be five days over the water ‘til we reach it, I reckon.”

“And ‘ave you been there before?”

The captain chuckles.

“Indeed I ‘ave, little goblin,” he replies, much to Loli’s consternation as she tells him sternly that she’s a gnome. “I’ve travelled these parts a lot, although I ain’t never seen this iceberg you be lookin’ for.”

“And the dragon?” Loli asks. Larustah looks towards his crew as they pull up the gangplank, raise their oars high and then lower them into the water.

“Seen shapes in the mist,” he says. “None I could peg as Old White Death ‘imself. Now, you and your friends should be ‘olding yourselves fast, we be about to push off.”

After five days of uneventful travel across the rolling waves with Larustah beating a rhythm on the drum at the stern of the ship, the blue water calms significantly and turns grey, dotted with floating islands of surface ice. Raddak, who spends some of his time flying above the ship to keep a lookout, spots the mountains of the Spine of the World far off to the right, and the crew pull in their oars. They will be travelling purely by the power of the winds now.

Beneath the rustling sails, Yaseino is meditating next to Moon, who is cleaning and sharpening her weapons, when there’s a cry from above them and the sound of tiny wings fluttering.

“I think I can see the iceberg!” Raddak tells Larustah, excitedly pointing through the fog and into the distance. The captain pulls out his spyglass and holds it up to his good eye, regarding the large iceberg with a flattened top between spiked peaks.

“Aarh,” he says. “I think you might be right, little dragon!” Calling to the helmsman to adjust the heading, he nods as Frostskimmer slowly starts to turn in that direction. He raises the spyglass again. “I think we be a couple o’ days travel away from it, mind, so you’ll need to decide ‘ow you want to spend the nights ‘ere.”

Loli wanders over and peers up at him.

“What are the choices?”

“Well,” replies Larustah, snapping the spyglass closed and stashing it on his belt. “We can stay on the ship away from the land creatures, but it be freezin’ on the open deck and there ain’t no protection from the weather. Or, we can pull the ship up onto the ice floe, risk the animals, and build some shelters. That’d be warmer.”

“And what would you do?” asks Loli, cheekily.

“Arrh, that be a bit of a cop out,” chuckles the captain. “It’s your voyage, so we’ll be doin’ what you say. But I will tell you this. When I was a crew member on this ship under Cap’n Scallywag, we came up ‘ere ‘untin’ polar bear. We stayed on the deck one night and an enormous storm struck. Most o’ the crew died, including the cap’n ‘imself, and I lost ‘alf my face to frostbite.” He briefly takes off his mask to reveal the damaged, blackened and shrivelled skin there, and Loli’s eyes widen.

“I fink we’ll stay on the ice,” she says quietly, as her friends all nod eagerly in agreement.

With the ship pulled up onto the ice and the crew ensconced in their makeshift igloos for the night, Loli puts up her Tiny Hut and the friends settle in for a rest. The dome is warm and dry inside and, although opaque from the outside, the walls are clear when viewed from within, enabling Raddak to take the first watch in relative comfort and safety. He sends a quick message to Lord Neverember to update him on their progress but, as he’s finishing it, his attention is drawn to the sea just beyond the edge of the ice. He squints into the evening gloom, then sends Ziggy over to get a closer look. The water is swirling with maelstroms and the cat glimpses a brief flash of silver-green scales as if something huge is swimming just beneath the surface. It disappears briefly underneath the ice, and Raddak immediately leans across and shakes Moon awake. The Tabaxi groans.

“It is my watch already?” she whispers.

Raddak shakes his head.

“No, but there’s something large in the water, very close to us,” he says quietly, his voice tinged with urgency. “Ziggy saw scales.”

“It is the sea, there are usually things with scales in it,” replies Moon, rubbing her eyes. “But we shall see.”

She sneaks quietly out of the hut and onto the ice floe, trying to stay silent as she moves, but she’s stopped in her tracks when a huge arm reaches out of the ocean and grabs onto the ship.

“Wake the others!” she yells to Raddak, pulling her bow from her back and loading up an arrow.

From behind her, Captain Larustah’s voice bellows loudly.

“MERROW!”

By the time the rest of the group are awake and racing to help, three more of the huge sea monsters have surfaced and are brandishing their harpoons. Unphased, Yaseino slides across the ice and attacks the first creature, hitting it twice as it tries to pull the ship into the water. It angrily flings a harpoon at the monk, but the weapon flies past his ear. Loli hits two of the newcomers with an Eldritch Blast each, while Mirik casts Call Lightning to bring a crackling electrical strike down onto them. The Merrow try to dodge out of the way but neither of the two are successful and screech in pain as the bolt hits them. One turns and hits Mirik with a harpoon in return. Raddak is bitten and clawed but manages to cast his Spirit Guardians, a cloud of tiny brass dragons that spit and hiss at the attackers as they fly in a swirling formation in front of the cleric.

Suddenly, there’s a splintering sound as the creature that’s attacking the ship rips off one of the planks and hurls it into the sea in triumph. Moon immediately launches an arrow into its claw and it recoils with a snarl, trying not to stagger when Yaseino sends a strong blast of air towards it. Two of the other sea monsters lurch towards Raddak and, while his tiny spirit guardians quickly dispatch the weakest one, the other slashes the little Kobold with its claws, inflicting quite a bit of damage on him and causing him to drop his concentration on his tiny dragons. The third lands a couple of hits on Mirik, and she loses her focus on the electrical storm raging above them. In retaliation she tries to hit the same creature with a Poison Spray, but misses the writhing monster as it ducks out of the way. In desperation, Loli casts Toll of the Dead on the Merrow who had been tearing at the Frostskimmer, and it dies with a shriek of anguish, sinking back into the icy depths.

Moon finishes another off with her dagger as Yaseino knocks the third unconscious, being unwilling to kill it outright. The adventurers all turn to the last Merrow and unleash their spells and weapons on it, and just a few minutes later another monstrous body lies on the cold, hard ice.

While Yaseino leaps after the Frostskimmer’s missing plank as it drifts down the edge of the ice floe, Raddak pulls out his dagger and surreptitiously finishes off the Merrow he left alive before heaving it into the water, along with the bodies of the other creatures.

The next morning, Raddak helps Captain Larustah with repairs to the ship, and they’re soon on course for the flat-topped iceberg again. In the evening, Larustah shares some dried fish with them as they all sit around the campfire, although he appears to be a bit hurt when both Moon and Yaseino decline his kind offer; the rogue because her life as a thief means that she’s learned not to accept food from strangers, and the monk because he doesn’t eat meat. Unlike the previous night though, they all get a good night’s sleep without interruption.

The following day, while continuing their voyage, Raddak spots a white dragon in the sky quite a distance away. Yaseino also sees it, but notices in addition that somebody appears to be riding it. They both find Captain Larustah and alert him, whereupon he pulls out the spyglass out of his belt and focuses it on the creature.

“Arrrhh, yes,” he says in awe. “Beautiful and dangerous. I reckon that be the White Wyrm, Arveiaturace, the mate of Arauthator.”

“And the person on the back of the dragon?” asks Yaseino, still squinting into the distance.

Larustah nods, not taking his eye off the creature.

“That would be the corpse of the wizard, Melthurond. ‘E was a dragon rider, and when ‘e died the White Wyrn couldn’t accept it. She loved him proper, so she’s carried ‘im around on ‘er back ever since. Doesn’t want to let ‘im go.”

Raddak and Yaseino give each other a look, before Raddak clears his throat and nervously asks another question.

“And… erm… what do you do with a dragon that you can ride around on?”

Larustah snaps the spyglass closed, jams it back into his belt and looks down at the Kobold with a wry smile.

“Well, that depends on ‘ow you use it,” he replies, simply. “And Melthurond, ‘e was a bit of a bastard. ‘E was a powerful wizard, but now ‘e’s a corpse.”

They pass another night safely on the ice, and another day of sailing after that, with the Captain telling them that they should make landfall on the iceberg by mid-afternoon. Floating planks and bits of debris begin to appear in the sea, bobbing on top of the waves, but as Moon reaches over to see if she can grab a couple of pieces for repairs, she loses her footing and tumbles overboard. Her friends throw her a rope but can’t pull her in, so Raddak magically manipulates the water around the Tabaxi to rise and deposit her back onto the ship. Larustah pats him on the shoulder and congratulates him, while Moon sheepishly goes to fetch a blanket, feeling exhausted.

Suddenly, as they pass the wreck of an ice-covered ship with Baldur’s Gate sails, Frostskimmer lurches to one side, then the other, as if hit from below. The captain bellows to everyone to hang on, just as two huge tentacles rise from the water, wrap themselves around a couple of the crewmen and haul them off to the depths before the men can even cry out. Moon, Yaseino and Loli all launch ranged attacks on the creatures, while Mirik conjures a Tidal Wave to knock one of the tentacles away from the ship. The other tentacle whips around, trying to grab at the friends or knock them off their feet, but with Raddak casting Bless upon them, the creature cannot get a hold.

After raining down more hits on the sea monsters, the heroes are finally victorious. One creature drifts away, unconscious following a blow from Yaseino. The other sinks below the waves with very crispy skin after taking a death blow from one of Raddak’s Firebolts, which also sets fire to a portion of the wooden deck. Loli magically pulls some seawater up over the side to put it out, and all is well again.

Yaseino turns to Captain Larustah.

“What manner of beast was that?” he asks, watching the man pick up a bottle of rum from a crate towards the stern.

“Giant octopi,” he replies, quietly. “The cold makes ‘em grow to an immense size.” He turns to the sea and raises a glass of the rum to his lost crew members, wishing them well on their journey, and the adventurers all bow their heads respectfully in return.

Oyaviggaton, the iceberg they’ve been heading towards for the past three days is now looming over them like a giant ice sculpture, jagged around the sides with a flat plateau high above. The captain orders that the oars be lowered so the ship can be guided to a relatively low and level shelf that would serve as a good dock, but when Moon picks up the tethering rope, ready to jump across and anchor the stake at the end of it, Larustah takes it from her hand.

“Maybe not you, young cat,” he says, before handing it to Raddak, who flies it across to the shelf and knocks the stake into the ice. The captain follows him and bangs it in even more securely, then has the crew lower the gangplank so the friends can disembark.

“Can’t see any threats!” he yells over to them, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the loudness of his voice could draw attention to them. “But there be a path you can use to get up top, look.”

Following the direction of his pointing finger, they see a narrow, winding trail carved out of the ice and heading upwards. They all don their crampons, except for Raddak whose claws are poking through his fur boots.

“Now,” continues Larustah. “If you do come across any people, they’ll likely be ice ‘unters. They only speak Eluik, so Frank ‘ere will come with you. ‘E can translate.”

Frank steps forward, not looking entirely happy, but he gives them a nod and picks up a small pack which he straps to his back.

“Ready?” Loli turns to her friends and grins, then starts off up the narrow ice pathway, encouraging everyone to be as stealthy as they can, just in case.

The mist thickens as they reach the top of the path and Yaseino loses his footing, only slipping slightly but exclaiming in surprise before catching himself. The sound, albeit not very loud, echoes around the freezing landscape and they suspect they may have blown their sneaky entrance, but they soon realise that they have greater concerns. Towards the top of the path is a wall of ice, and frozen into it are six ice hunters, three southern folk, and a dwarf. All have faces that are contorted in terror and all are looking in the same direction; up and behind them. Loli can’t find anything to tell her who they were or what happened to them, but Raddak is familiar with white dragons.

“This is a larder,” he whispers, fearfully. “The dragon freezes its victims into the ice. Keeps them fresh.”

Placing Ziggy on the ground, he gets him to run through the mists to see what lies ahead, hanging on to Loli’s cloak so that he can share the cat’s vision. He sees shapes that look as if they may be yurts made of animal skins and furs, possibly the makings of a tribal village, but the mists obscure much of the landscape and he can’t get any closer without losing contact with the cat.

“I wonder if they’re shipwrecked ‘ere?” says Loli, as Raddak tells them what he can see.

Moon shakes her head.

“You only live in the shadow of a dragon because the dragon lets you,” she whispers in reply. “And you only survive by serving the dragon. We should not trust these people.”

The Kobold snaps back to his own senses and, as Ziggy appears through the mist again, he casts Pass Without Trace on them all. Silently, they head towards the village, passing beneath a strange collection of whale bones that have been formed into an archway at the entrance. Staring at the huge ribs, Raddak can see that the scrape marks that scar these bones were most certainly made by a dragon, although the bones themselves have been arranged in an odd fashion as if to try and disguise their true nature. Further on, they pass racks of fish that have been hung up for drying and preserving, and beyond these they can see a well-maintained village, consisting of various sizes of seal-skin hut. Not only that, but the villagers are all lined up to greet them, having heard their approach up the pathway.

“These are the ice hunters,” says Frank quietly. He tries to greet them in their native Eluik, but they respond by banging their harpoons on the frozen ground in an intimidating manner, and will not answer him.

Raddak walks over to the crewman.

“Tell them that the great dragon goddess bids them welcome,” he says.

“What?” says Frank, almost in a panic.

“Just tell them!” urges Raddak, watching as the man relays his words to the ice hunters. Most of them turn to each other nervously, but three step forward, clearly the most important people in the tribe. One, an imposing man with a big beard, points at Loli.

“NO!” he says, simply.

Loli is confused.

“Me? What’ve they got against me?” She turns to the chieftain and shouts at him. “Why don’t you like me, then?”

Frank explains that they are very untrusting of warlocks, and when Loli asks how they know that she’s a warlock, the older woman in the group leans on her shamanic staff, sniffs the air and laughs.

Frank takes a breath to calm his nerves.

“We are looking for a red lady,” he says in Eluik. “Have you seen her?”

The chieftain takes another step forward, looking angrier.

“You go!” he shouts. “You not see what happened to last people who came here? They die! The sea serpent kill them.”

Raddak isn’t fooled by the mention of a sea serpent, and he knows that the tribe are hiding the fact that it was Old White Death who killed these people. He casts Thaumaturgy, conjuring the sound of a dragon’s roar, and all the ice hunters except for the three elders fall to their knees. It may be that they revere the dragon, but he also sees fear in their eyes on hearing its voice. He casts Thaumaturgy again, making it obvious this time that he was responsible for creating the sound.

The expression of the chieftain turns dark with fury.

“Go!” he yells, pointing towards the bone archway with his sword. “GO!”

Knowing that they need to find Maccath the Crimson, the adventurers aren’t sure what to do. They could make their way around the settlement instead, but it’s unlikely that they would be able to find the arcanist without entering the village and searching for clues as to what might have happened to her. However, the chieftain takes their indecision as defiance against leaving. He raises his sword again and speaks in Eluik to Frank, who translates for the group.

“Either they leave now, or one must face the champion in battle to earn the right to stay. A simple trial by combat, no magic. One champion against the other.”

“Who is your champion?” Frank responds, gulping as the chieftain immediately points to the other man who has been standing quietly with them; a man who is nearly seven feet tall, muscular and carrying a huge blade.

“Orcaheart! He will fight for us!”

With three magic-users and a Harefolk monk who refuses to participate in a brawl, it’s the exhausted Tabaxi rogue who steps forward for the fight. She pulls out her dagger and sword as her friends and the villagers form a circle around the them, the ice hunters whooping for their champion, the adventurers a little bit worried for theirs. Raddak offers Moon his bag of ball bearings, but she tells him she has some in her pack.

“Use them,” he urges. “Try to knock him off balance to give yourself an advantage.”

She nods, thanks him, and the chieftain calls for the fight to begin.

Moon goes straight on the offensive, attacking with her dagger and then making an offhand attack with her sword. Both hit the man, but the damage from her non-magical weapons is negligible. Orcaheart retaliates by smashing the Tabaxi with his shield and, in her weakened condition, she’s shoved to the floor. He strikes her twice, but she manages to dodge one of the blows so it doesn’t hurt her quite as much as it would have. She jumps back to her feet and attacks him again, slashing at his exposed skin with both her weapons.

They circle each other like this for a while and Moon is shoved to the floor a few more times, but when she manages to stagger Orcaheart she notices that he’s helped back to his feet by the shaman, whose lips seem to be moving as she does so. Raddak and Loli spot this too, and surmise that she’s casting healing spells on her champion, effectively cheating. They both swap looks with Moon to silently communicate that something fishy is going on, so the next time the Tabaxi is shoved to the floor, she takes a moment to pull out her flask and take a long swig. The strong, sweet scent of mead permeates the air and Orcaheart looks down at her and nods approvingly, but Moon surreptitiously uses the alcoholic haze to regain some of her own health before leaping back up to face the champion. Even so, as he swipes at her again with his huge sword, Moon can feel her strength sapping away, and with one last dodge she pulls out the ball-bearings and scatters them across the ground. Orcaheart falls backwards as his feet disappear from under him, whereupon Moon pounces with a brutal and damaging sneak attack. She then presses her foot against his throat until he is on the verge of passing out but, when the shaman comes running forward, she releases the man and offers her hand to help him up. He accepts.

While the old woman is administering healing to their champion, Raddak runs over and gives some healing to Moon as well, before they’re all led off to one of the larger huts and told to wait there. Frank makes his excuses and heads back to the ship, not wanting to spend the night in the settlement, but when plates of fermented fish are brought in for the rest of the group, Raddak and Mirik happily tuck in. Loli takes some, but stashes it in her bag, while Moon and Yaseino both decline the offer. In fact, Moon eats some of her rations then curls up in one corner, exhausted and injured, and tries to get comfortable. Shortly afterwards, it becomes apparent to Raddak and Mirik that the fermented fish may not be agreeing with them as both their stomachs start to churn. The shaman enters and chuckles, noticing their discomfort.

“You eat fish?” she says to them in the common tongue. “You may not be used to. Is…” she ponders her words for a moment. “Is… needing strong stomach.”

Raddak winces as his stomach protests again, and the shaman eyes him suspiciously.

“You go outside. No make mess in hut.”

The Kobold runs outside and Loli chimes in, smiling at the elder who introduces herself as Bonecarver.

“Erm, ‘ello,” the Gnome starts. “We need to find our friend, a red lady, with ‘orns? ‘Ave you seen ‘er?”

The shaman nods.

“Little red person come here. No see for many times.”

As Bonecarver’s story unfolds, it becomes apparent that the ice hunters are indeed slaves to the dragon, Arauthator. They hunt to provide food for him and he does not permit them to leave, keeping them captive on the iceberg so that they can serve him and his needs. She tells them that they saw Maccath when she arrived, but that she went down into the ice caves and has not returned.

“We think Old White Death keep little red person for White Wyrm,” the shaman continues. “White Wyrm fly dead person. Maybe little red person replace corpse.”

Raddak appears back in the hut, looking decidedly pale.

“And is this iceberg the lair of Old White Death?” he asks, shakily.

Bonecarver nods.

“Yes. One lair of many, but him here most. He live in caves under surface.”

“And has anyone else come here to speak with the dragon?”

“Everyone come here die or go away,” she replies with a shrug. “Except you.”

Behind them, Moon uncurls herself and speaks quietly, almost asleep.

“Have you heard the noise of a horn at all?” she asks, as Raddak obliges by casting Thaumaturgy so that everyone can hear what the horn’s note sounds like. Bonecarver cocks her head, then shakes it.

“Not hear, feel stillness.”

“Like the atmosphere before a storm?” asks Moon, trying to help the old woman.

She smiles.

“Yes, like before storm! When happens, dragons go. Both go, then come back. Dragons and little dead man.”

Raddak suddenly pops up to his feet with a squeak and dashes out of the hut again, making Bonecarver chuckle, albeit with a tinge of sympathy.

“Is Orcaheart alright?” Moon asks, concerned for the champion and the injuries she had inflicted on him. The shaman nods and smiles.

“Yes, he pray to Grey Seal. He will heal.”

“Maybe I should do that too,” the Tabaxi replies, wincing at her wounds as she changes position. The shaman reaches over and rests a hand on her knee.

“No, for you, Reindeer Mother help,” she whispers kindly. “Spirits help. I pray to spirits, and spirits send all you. You kill dragon. Make free.” She looks across at Mirik. “I see your eyes. You know spirits, yes?”

The druid smiles, despite her stomach pains.

“I do,” she replies. “And I hope that the strength of the totem spirits will help us to free your people from this tyranny.”

Bonecarver claps her hands together in delight, picks up her staff and then stands to head for the door.

“I leave now, you sleep. Sleep good, and tomorrow you kill dragon!”

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