Reign of Winter

The Howlings District

The next morning, Ringeirr unveils his infiltration plan: a cart of frozen fish. He suggests that the adventurers conceal their arms and armor in oil-soaked cloths under the fish. This should prevent attracting unnecessary attention from the authorities. Jaina dons the rimepelt in preparation of the rest of the party’s disguise: her slaves, helping her deliver a food shipment from the Fishcamps.

The walls of Whitethrone, as they loom closer, are bright white and adorned with odd totems. Although it becomes clear that this is simply some peculiar masonry, the intended effect is clear: the walls appear to be made from fused bones, and the totems are gigantic skulls looking outward from the city.

The party approaches the city from the northwest, attempting to enter the city through the Howlings Gate. Drawing nearer, it seems that it is less a “gate” and more “an unfinished section of the wall.” This doesn’t mean that it is unguarded, however, and the party is soon challenged by the gate guard, Greta, a winter wolf in her human form per the wolves’ ancient pact with Baba Yaga. Having entered the Howlings proper, Jaina now looks (and, most importantly, smells) the part – her normal features have been replaced by silver hair, ice-blue eyes, and pale skin. Greta greets Jaina as an equal, and though Jaina attempts to convince her to let her pass with her “slaves,” Greta respectfully refuses… without some monetary motivation. A small sum is paid to her for each undocumented head and the party is allowed to pass – but not before Brax is pulled aside and subjected to Greta’s interest. She tells him when her watch will be over and suggests he meet her back at the Gate – his mistress’s permission pending, of course.

The adventurers don’t make it a hundred feet into the Howlings before they are beset by blue brigands – a small troop of snow goblins calling themselves the Back Alley Boys and led by one Grindtooth. Luckily, Jaina convinces him that he has unwisely beset a winter wolf and her retinue and he prudently calls his Boys off.

Ringeirr leads the party through the streets toward the fishes’ destination, but abruptly stops the cart and loses the color from his face, motioning his companions into the shadows of the houses. He points down the covered alley before them and says, “That’s one of the mirror men. They’re spies of the Queen and have some magic way of speaking to the White Witches, letting them see whatever the mirror men see. We must hide, get it to ignore us, or kill it. But if it becomes suspicious, don’t let it escape alive – or we’re done for, all of us!” Ringeirr and the nimbler party members climb atop the houses and alley, while the spellcasters turn themselves invisible and retreat to the treeline, using prestidigitation to clean their tracks from the snow behind them. The mirror man continues its patrol down the alley and out into the town, seeming not to notice the party at all. They breathe a collective sigh of relief and continue down the street, delivering their fishy cargo and bringing their cloth-wrapped equipment inside. The grateful townsfolk gladly allow them to stay inside until nightfall, when it will be easier to move about the district and contact Mortin, the forger. Meanwhile, Brax decides to make good on his promise to meet Greta after her shift.

Still believing him to be Jaina’s slave, she leads him to a small tavern in the district. Their mutual pride soon leads them to some good-natured competition in the form of a drinking game, with Brax ordering round after round of orcish liquor. Eventually she begs off, admitting defeat, but Brax has not exactly kept his wits about him either. The food, ordered by Greta, finally arrives and begins another culinary wager – this time with the spiciness of the food. Brax doesn’t last long in this competition, prompting a laugh from Greta, but she eases his suffering with a kiss and a cool drink. As they get to know eachother, Greta (drunkenly) confides to Brax that she has no particular love for the Jadwiga and certainly no allegiance to Elvanna’s Winter Guard. With very little subtlety, she implies that would love to travel, but would need a way to permanently maintain her human form. From there, the conversation returns to lighter topics and the date ends well – just in time for Brax to run into his fellows and “mistress” in the street.

While Brax was winning over the enemy, Ringeirr was leading the party through the streets of the Howlings toward Mortin’s house. They chanced upon two drunken winter wolves airing their disagreements in the street. Though they briefly changed their attitudes when they saw Jaina, they soon returned to scuffling, this time over her attention. Soon enough, there was a victor, and Jaina teasingly agreed to meet him later at an inn. Glowing and satisfied, the wolf strutted away, doubtless looking forward to what he thought the night had in store for him.

Coming to an intersection, the adventurers were nearly bowled over by a man sprinting through the streets. Knocked the ground after colliding with Dassem, the man scrambles to his knees and pants, “My name is Jorhan…. My master… is in a rage.” No sooner does he speak than a wolf rounds the corner, stopping to eye them and his servant. Seeing Jaina as one of his own kind, his demeanor becomes friendly and he introduces himself as Korgin. “This man is part of my household – or was, until he decided to question how I manage my affairs,” he says with a snarl toward the cowering Jorhan. His manner becomes affable again as he continues to address Jaina, “I’m sure you understand. Sometimes you just can’t break that defiant streak, and they’re good for nothing but a bit of sport.” Jaina laughingly commiserates, but offers nonetheless to buy Jorhan from Korgin. The wolf agrees, seeming to be just as glad to get paid for the man’s life as he would’ve been to hunt him for fun. After Korgin leaves – and much to the chagrin of Jaina – Ringeirr tells Jorhan that he is free and must hurry back to Korgin’s manor, gather any other slaves that remain, clear the place of valuables, and go to a safehouse owned by the Heralds of Summer’s Return. He attempts to placate Jaina by assuring her that while some of the wolf’s wealth must go to the Heralds, he will see to it that they receive a fair portion.

After Brax rejoins the group, Ringeirr tells them that Mortin’s house is not far now. As they pass through the crossroads, they are noticed by a pair of ice trolls bearing the insignia of the Winter Guard. The trolls, however, are distracted for the moment by an argument with a pair of winter wolves. Ringeirr hurries the party down the street, knowing that once their argument is concluded they will probably be pursued and questioned by the winner. Ringeirr pounds on Mortin’s door, imploring him to unlock it and let them in. When there is no answer, he swears and asks the party if they can break the door down. After some deliberation and a failed attempt to shoulder in by Brax, a crowbar is produced and Dassem is able to pry the door open as the trolls round the corner, coming down the street. They lose interest as they see the party enter Mortin’s house and continue their patrolling.

Once inside, a furious Ringeirr slams the cowering wizard against the wall and roundly berates him for leaving them to the mercy of the Winter Guard. Mortin stammers an apology and says, “O-of course I’ll be happy to p-produce papers for you at no charge!” Some of the party, wishing to be able to openly display their weapons and armor, opt for more complicated Stilyagi papers. The spellcasters, having no need to display such items, go with the much simpler slave papers.

“Get some rest, comrades,” Ringeirr says. “We will stay here tonight and enter the city in the morning.” He says the last with a pointed look at Mortin, who appears to think better of objecting and nods his miserable acquiescence.

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