During the battle with the oni, Kimandatsu, Kiku and Gelden are poisoned by deathblade which the ninja employed against us. There is no way to deal with the poison now but delay poison allows us to continue to search. Further on, we find a small pen or cell which houses a growling winter wolf which we quickly dispatch, but perhaps prematurely out of desperation or fear, for the creature seems to be a prisoner here; we’ll never learn its story now.
Further on again, we find a beaten and imprisoned Ulfen man who lies in a grotto and who is none other than Ulf, the arctic guide for whom we’ve been searching. He is guarded by three blindheims which lurk in the water and blind some of us with their terrible gaze attack. We dispatch them, and free Ulf. He speaks of the Path of Aganhei, a route that climbs through the Crown of the World. It is an eastern name, named after an Amatatsu explorer. We make our way back to the hall, blind and beaten, and search a little more before resting for a short while near a door which we’ve uncovered. After a short respite and conversation with Ulf, we hurriedly decide to open the door which is trapped and sets off a violent column of flame which tears through the room. It extinguishes the lives of Gelden and Kiku and leaves Dreki and Cusp sorely wounded. Luckily, Ulf was sat away from the fire’s proximity. This, of course, forces us to retreat from the hall altogether, and we do so, returning to Kalsgard.
We convalesce in Kalsgard for a long time, waiting for the Amatatsu Seal to recover its power to resurrect our fallen comrades. During this time, Lute Haggersley reveals the Rimerunners’ nefarious dealings which get their operations suspended. Suishen tells us that hundreds of years ago in Minkai, oni emerged from the Forest of Spirits and began their war against the five royal families. By 4456 AR, they were close to their goals of domination. They waged battles against the Amatatsu whose numbers were greatly reduced, forcing the family to flee. The Amatatsu patriarch sold the sword to finance the family’s exile, changed their name to Kaijitsu, and sought refuge in Brinewall as Rokuro Kaijitsu. They magically secured the family seal and became a family of merchants and glassblowers.
Ulf tells us that the journey over the Crown of the World will take 3-6 months or more, depending on the weather. We spend two months in town, researching, working, and stocking up on supplies for the road ahead, with Ulf and Uksahhka as our guides.
We finally set out in the summer and the path of Aganhei sweeps through various small settlements before cutting through a swath of uncharted territory. On the third day, we’ve passed through the Thanelands and roll into the fortified town of Turvik. It’s a town that overlooks miles of tundra. The next day we journey out of Turvik and eventually come to a wooded area and a fork in the road. Ulf is a little concerned at the strange unnatural silence that seems to have befallen these lands. He has no memory of this place and bids us head along the left path but we decide to take a harrow reading by Koya to see if her Varisian divinations can reveal any insights. During the harrow reading, she is overcome by a trance and speaks in an eerie tone:-
“Trapped within by a hateful three,
A realm from which you cannot flee,
Where dreams are real, peace is strife,
Safety peril, and death is life.
Beyond the dark cacophony
the withering caress will be.
Scalding cold, and chill of ire,
Just above a peril dire,
Spanning across the threshold key,
Your senses invoke treachery.
To break the curse, pray break it thrice,
Or pay, you will, the vengeful price.
The only way to leave this place
A baleful coven you must face."
Our hearts sink as we realise we are trapped in a cursed, nightmare forest and a baleful howl which threatens our resolve is overcome by a very loud roll of drum licks by Cusp but Koya’s trance threatens a great number of trials ahead if we are to break free of the curse which corrupts these lands. We think we need to go to sleep to directly deal with the curse and so we attempt to do so. Some of us manage to sleep, others do not and are fatigued, but those who sleep do not bring us any closer to breaking the curse. We continue travelling down the path to a crossroads but whichever road we take brings us back to this spot in the woods, a treacherous junction from which there seems to be no escape. We try to break the paths by cutting down trees, and trying to sleep and yet we still remain and cannot escape. All the while, there are glimpses of the antlered black humanoid who has plagued our nightmares all this while.
The creature has left some cloven footprints in the snow, and a small group of us decide to follow these into the dense woods. Through the snow, we come to a hideous effigy, an Ulfen Nithing Pole. It is set to ward off enemies by way of fear but bolstered by Gelden’s prayers, we are able to bring ourselves to approach it. As we pass it, though, it bursts a deadly spray of splinters and animates as a great wood golem, which we fight and defeat.
The tracks lead eventually to an Ulfen hall, surrounded by small outbuildings. Smoke issues lazily from the hall’s chimney, and from the cover of the treeline, we divine seven Ulfen men sat inside, their grim visages held low. A terrible-looking storm gathers over distant hills and we make our way to the door hoping to treat with the Jarl as these people too may be under the spell that has gripped these lands. Somehow, we’ve divined or recalled the name of the Jarl: Gathik Thorgrisson.
The Jarl allows us to enter the hall if we remove our weapons and we agree to do so, leaving them by the door. As we enter and converse with the men, we realise that a magical miasma is upon this place. They too seem to be under a curse and seem quiet and depressed. They offer us drink and speak little but soon, the illusion drops. They are corpses, and a shattering thunder-strike obliterates the central fireplace as a terrible hunched creature crashes through the doors we’d just entered, silhouetted by night and lightning and rain. It demands weregild for our work at Ravenscraeg and a terrifying battle ensues but we emerge the victors.