Back at Castle Dragonsbane, winter has settled upon the city. It has not escaped the notice of Queen Aeryn that many of her subjects are curiously dying from the frost. When Alaric queries her highness as to whether they can bring the animals inside the castle halls, she agrees and sends him on his errand.
“I’ll see that it’s done,” Alaric informs her.
“See that you do, vassal,” she replies with cold hauteur.
“Uppity bitch,” Slade remarks under his breath.
The party has now comfortably settled into a life of luxury in the castle, and all of the party members have duties specific to her majesty. Slade works as her majesty’s liaison to the underworld, Alaric enjoys a position as lead master-at-arms, David works as her magical aide, Rhaine works closely with the ranger part-time, and Silver is still deeply embroiled in her priestly studies.
Despite their newfound duties, the party hungers for a new adventure. Discovering the source of evil seems like a worthy enough cause to draw even the queen from her throne, and the adventurers agree to meet at first light and head out into the snowstorm.
Rhaine leads the circus animals into the great hall to lodge for the night. They are hungry and the weather is uncustomary to them, so they settle down and huddle together for warmth as the Druid goes to fetch them food.
Slade goes to tell David of the new developments. Aeryn has given the gnome his own tower atop the castle where he has filled his days with reading and memorizing spells. The halfling finds him here, deeply immersed in his studies (aka reading a Playboy) with his nose buried in a book.
As he knocks, the gnome calls out, “What is it?”
“Yo man, it’s me. Open up!”
David grumpily unbars the door to allow him entry and is almost immediately sorry he did. The halfling asks him if he could cast a spell on Hyperion, the grub, so people will perceive him as a raccoon and it won’t look as strange around the castle. David grudgingly says he’ll look into it.
“But what’s the real reason for you coming here?”
“This seems like an unnatural winter, so we’re all meeting up downstairs so we can go whoop some ass,” the halfling says. Never one to turn down a good adventure, David slams his books shut, gathers his belongings, and makes his way down the tower with his friend in tow.
As Slade and David come before the queen, she impatiently explains to them what little information she knows about the affected villages—Stepside, Bowlville, and Gateway, which is the gateway to the north where the barbarians reside. Each town is about a day’s ride spread out in equal directions.
The team procures provisions for the immense cold and agrees to meet in the foyer at first light. Aeryn retires to her private tower for the night for some gnome sex, though not before sending Silver a messenger to inform her of their plan. This way, when she finishes learning from the priest, she will know where to find them.
Before going up to the tower, Aeryn’s captain of the guards tells her they need to close down some of the places outside since the storm is coming on strong. The queen agrees that this would be best and the party retires for the night. Slade finds himself cuddling in the east tower, spread-eagled and naked, with Hyperion for warmth. Rhaine dozes with the pandas in a cuddling embrace.
As Aeryn and David are upstairs “studying magic,” an urgent knock sounds against the door. The rather disgruntled queen asks what it is—with some irritation in her voice. The soldier tells her the people are freezing as the cold advances. She instructs him to bring the people inside and set up FEMA-style cots in the throne room. In accordance with her wishes, a small battalion of soldiers ushers a good forty or fifty people inside, and they immediately crowd around the fireplace.
In the stables, the animals begin cuddling together even more to try and stay warm. Slade warms his balls openly in front of the fireplace. He then enters the stables and sees the giant animal cuddle fest, which is really quite cute. He goes and finds Rhaine sleeping soundly next to Alaric, with a huge panda body wedged between them. Poking Rhaine in the shoulder, he whispers, “Psst… wake up!”
“What?” she replies groggily.
“I love you,” he professes.
Now that he has her attention, he asks her to go check out the new arrivals but she doesn’t want to. Instead, he leaves Hyperion with her and goes back to check it out alone while—and I quote—“everyone else gets their fuck on.”
Alaric, who has been sleeping lightly, is awakened by the sound of voices and agrees to accompany Slade back into the hall. They go to where the guards were last bringing people in. The guards didn’t come back after leaving to retrieve more people, so this immediately aroused Slade’s suspicion.
Alaric lights his torch and dons furs. The two throw wide the egress and are blasted in the face with immense cold. There are near blizzard conditions outside—weather Alaric has experienced before during his childhood.
Slade suggests they only move forward about 300 yards to check for the missing guards and then they will go inside because it is so cold. Slade lights two torches while Alaric holds him face-high so he can actually see through the blustery madness, and they walk in formation just like this, approximately 300 yards ahead.
No sooner do they do this than Alaric starts shivering uncontrollably. His feet turn numb.
“We’re gonna have to go back. I underestimated the cold,” he says through gritted teeth.
The ranger drops the halfling and starts marching back with a long, purposeful stride. As Rhaine’s spell wears off, Slade gets super cold and gains respect for the ranger’s abilities to weather the elements.
Back in the queen’s private chambers, warm magical moments pass and Aeryn and David enjoy love’s afterglow. It is then she realizes the captain hasn’t come back, so she dresses quickly, goes downstairs, and sees refugees huddling in the throne room. Even while wearing full clothes, she finds herself shivering. It is far too cold in the castle.
Alaric and Slade return as though right on cue. Aeryn throws together some soup from the kitchen and lades it (forcibly?) into some of the refugees’ mouths. They smile and accept her charity with polite thanks, although her bedside manner leaves much to be desired.
David by now has come down from the tower (dressed, thankfully) and he suddenly remembers reading about a freeze in the past in one of his books upstairs. He immediately returns to the tower.
Meanwhile, everyone is marveling at the fact Queen Aeryn brewed up a hell of a soup. The soup makes nearly everyone feel better.
“Boccob bless you,” many of the citizens tell her.
“Where the hell were you?” Aeryn says, noticing Alaric and Slade at last. “It’s cold as a witch’s tit out there!”
“Thanks for making us some soup!” Slade chortles.
“This is not for you,” Alaric says, elbowing him.
Back in the stables, Rhaine wakes and the pandas, Milky and Fluffy, sense her curiosity at what’s going on.
In the hall, Slade and Alaric report to Aeryn about what happened outside.
“What happened? Where are they?” she queries.
“Taken by the cold,” Alaric drawls.
People try to ask the queen what is going on, but she can’t answer so she gives them more soup instead.
Upstairs, David finds a tome called The Planting Seasons of The Spine and immediately thumbs through it, landing upon chapter six, which is titled “The Oddities of Past Seasons.” This chapter speaks of a well-noted two-year span where all residents of the city had to flee to south of the spine because of a peculiar weather pattern. It also spins tales of heroes who adventured north and found an evil at the source of it, an old relic believed to be at the heart of it. It all seems very folktale-ish, but David notices that the return of the people to the north’s date coincides with the takeover of the Frostmantles. When they slayed them, the cold winters never returned.
David goes downstairs to the throne room, drinks some of the soup, and gathers everyone (including Rhaine) around to talk to them. He is jumping up and down so excitedly that somebody gives him a box to stand on. He tells them he found a book and seasons ago it was similarly cold and that the Frostmantles made the winters go away when they took power. He suggests they travel north, as the heroes of old did.
“I don’t know how we’re going to make it when we nearly froze a few paces outside of the castle,” Alaric says with disdain.
An old man who has overheard their conversation places a wizened hand on David’s shoulder and says, “I remember the cold. It wasn’t until brave adventurers like you fought the deathly evil in the north that it retreated. When the storm passes, it will still be freezing but barely passable.”
David thanks the man and sends him on the way.
“I think we should wait out the storm,” Alaric advises.
“I dont’ have any advice, but how did the Frostmantles keep the cold at bay? The adventurers never came back,” Rhaine adds.
David tells them about the relic mentioned in the tome.
The party then decides to talk to Tyron Thraxus, the friendly dragon from downstairs. Aeryn distracts the people with her dancing skills while Slade and David slip down into the passageway undetected. Everyone is suitably enthralled by the dancing abilities of their beautiful queen. Alaric also takes the moment to distract them with the tale of David the Gnome and His Wild Adventures.
“Well, there was a band of dwarves called Hoggle, Snoggle, Derek, and Hogan…” his voice booms as several villagers gather around, entranced by his words.
Meanwhile, the cave beneath the castle is dreadfully cold as Slade and David move downward through it. As they grow closer to the dragon, however, the air in the cave grows more humid. They find Tyron there, looking very peaceful and happy in his slumber that he so loves. His tail twitches and slaps Slade against the wall and then is still as the halfling wakes him up.
“Well, I guess if this dragon is asleep we’ll have to take all the gold here,” Slade announces to David.
Thraxus wakes up and is livid at the mere mention of their possible theft. David quickly launches into an explanation of what is happening in the castle—and the lands—above him, and Thraxus grumpily responds that he could “give two shits about it.”
When the gnome sees that they aren’t going to get anywhere with the testy dragon, he says, “Actually, Slade let’s go and tell everybody to come down here while it’s warm.”
“Wait a minute!”
Now that they have his attention, Slade asks him about his ancient dragon wisdom and whether or not he knows anything of the relic the adventurers sought to defeat the evil. Thraxus replies that he doesn’t remember a relic but that a lot of places up north which are cold are controlled by creatures like him. He says northern dragons are white dragons—or “whiteys”—that travel in clans. He then says his memory is getting foggy and he needs gold. If they give him one hundred gold, he promises to come find them and tell them. So, like any adventurers would do, they get an IOU.
Thraxus tells them the white dragons left when the Frostmantles took power; he hasn’t felt their magic since the day Aeryn raised the flag. There was once magic there and now it is gone.
“Do you want to come adventuring with us?” David proposes.
“Fuck no!” the dragon growls.
They leave him alone and he barks, “go on with ya’s.”
Back in the throne room, the dancing has ended and Alaric’s story concludes with vigor. Everyone is waiting and some of the people have fallen back asleep. Alaric’s breath is condensing in front of him; it is colder than before.
It is midnight when Slade and David emerge into the hallway. Aeryn asks for a full report and David tells her the white dragons were the source of the cold. Everything seems to be telling them to go to the north and set all things aright, so they resolve to do just that.
A creaking sound comes from the entryway as the door cracks open and cold air pours through into the hallway.
The stable is occupied by two pandas, tree giraffes, three tigers, six horses, and two sea otters, all of whom are huddling together for warmth. Rhaine wants to move all of them inside with the people, but as she opens the pen she notices all of the animals aren’t standing. Some of them aren’t even moving because it is so cold. Even Rhaine’s skin is aching. There is no death here yet, but the situation is not looking good.
Alaric returns just in time to help the Druid by coaxing the animals into the throne room with the frightened people. Alaric curiously asks David to shrink Aeryn’s throne. David unleashes his burning hands spell above the peasants to freak them out royally and also herd them away from the throne. He then employs the use of his reverse enlarge spell on the throne, and it shrinks to the size of dollhouse furniture.
The party ushers people down the passage with the promise of more soup. They say there is gold down there too.
“Take as much as you want,” Slade encourages them.
They get everything but the horses in the passageway when Slade prays, “Dear Othok, people rain down chaos upon the situation. Thank you, Slade.”
As though in answer to his prayer, the main doors of the castle fall off and a cold wind comes seeping through, making everyone shiver. The staff flees to their quarters. Slade, meanwhile, wraps Hyperion up in a bearskin rug and puts him in his pack.
Alaric, minding his manners, stops the very next peasant in the line, announcing, “Make way for the queen.”
Aeryn moves through imperiously before ushering David and Slade in. Alaric, who was holding back the peasant with a big hand in his chest, shoves the man backward and locks the door, barring the peasants, horses, and giraffes out in the cold. Their screams can be heard as Alaric’s mighty arms hold the doors at bay.
The party continues onward, undeterred.
As the animalsl get depper down into the passage, they sniff the air and Rhaine can sense their terror. Rhaine lights the tunnel with a burning flame in her hand. Slade manages to sneak past Alaric to open the door where he shut out the twenty other people. As Slade slides the door open, Alaric readies himself to throw a knife over the halfling’s head and into the chest of the very first person he sees—but he is surprised when all that greets him is the sight of a bunch of dead bodies. They slump over and stack up on Slade. Alaric manages to roll them off the halfling. Working together, they are able to clear the bodies and close the door.
Aeryn comforts some of the other people while David does his best to make mischief by telling a few of the peasants there is gold in the other room. Two of them slink past down the hallway. Those same two peasants come running back moments later, pissing themselves as Thraxus raises himself up to his full and imposing height. Thraxus yells at Slade for bringing everybody down here and orders them to leave him alone and go back upstairs. Alaric says the cold overtook the castle and that is why they had to come down here. As Queen Aeryn makes her presence known, the dragon warns them to keep out. He roars and comes to his full height.
From his mouth comes a rolling gas that hits everybody. It stinks and tingles their skin. Everyone except the animals, Alaric, and Rhaine are pushed back into the tunnel by the huge blast from the dragon’s mouth. Thraxus stomps his feet and stares at Rhaine and Alaric. He then decides to cut a deal with them. He says they have to leave the animals there because he’s worried they won’t survive upstairs and he wants the animals to live.
Alaric summons Bedlam to him in order to get a read on Thraxus. The dog approves, and thus, so does his master. Rhaine coaxes over her pandas and they converse with the dragon in Pandaese. She manages to get all the other animals in there and they all law down on the gold as the dragon invites them in to his humble abode.
Alaric and Rhaine return to their repelled companions and tell them the dragon will allow them passage to the other side of the tunnel if they leave the animals with him, to which everyone agrees. Rhaine then returns to the door and opens it. A cool blast of air hits her square in the face, but she is otherwise okay because she had cast an endure cold spell. She casts the spell on all of the party members and they proceed up the spiral staircase and into the castle, stepping over the dead corpses of people and animals. The entire room is frozen solid; a snow drift of about six to seven feet high reaches up to the door.
Alaric hoists David up onto his shoulders piggyback-style as the party ventures out into the quiet, still town. A howl sounds in the distance. More howls follow form the north and the east. A blue light glows down the street, casting shadows on the wall of a nearby building. They approach the light and see three big male blue-skinned figures move down an alleyway without noticing them.
Wolves approach and the party backs up. The wolves come rushing by to follow the large creatures. Two winter wolves stop and start sniffing around, detecting the faint trace of the party. They begin barking for their comrades to join them, which they do. The arctic wolves converge on the party and Rhaine quickly blesses everyone as they move into attack formation.
Aeryn, who is unfortunately allergic to arctic wolves, let out a huge, body-wracking sneeze as she goes to attack, fumbling with her blade. Slade accidentally hits her with a sling bullet across the cheek.
“My beautiful face!” Alaric mocks in her voice. Slade accidentally tangles his sling around his leg and falls off the roof. He remains here, suspended in mid-air, hanging by it.
Aeryn manages to throw the attacking wolf off herself. Slade, fumbling again, ends up swinging his sling around his neck Return of the Jedi-style.
The wolf chomps down on Aeryn’s sword and breaks its teeth. Alaric manages to kill the first one with a deadly blow. Aeryn cuts the other one deep and then lops its head clean off in a show of might. Slade kills a third wolf. Alaric dispatches with the very last one.
The party then hears the sound of thudding footsteps. Slade immediately flees to the roof of a nearby building while Aeryn, David, Rhaine, and Alaric enter the freshly ripped open wall of the building and hide. They all run up the stairs to the second floor of the house as a blue glow appears, illuminating the streets. Intuition takes over and tells the party members to move quietly through the house. They pass by the dead bodies of a four-person family, a gruesome sight. At the top of the stairs, they duck and hide (though there was really no need, since they were fortunately not by any windows).
As the creatures round the corner, Slade finds himself only slightly above eye level from them as he lays on the rooftop. The three giants come into focus. One of them bends down, picks up a wolf in its hand, pets the vicious beast as though it was a soft kitten, puts it down, and lets out a yell.
The three lumbering creatures glance down the road, converse briefly in giant, and then walk away. The party notices the blue light floating away after them.
Rhaine skins one of the wolves and takes a pelt for herself. The party then makes its way down to the blacksmith’s. It is locked, but Slade manages to pick the lock. Piece of cake!
The shop is empty inside and eerily quiet. Aeryn scavenges for a helmet on one of the shelves and procures one with two wings sweeping outward on either side. Rhaine recasts the spell to make them invinceable to cold again, and everyone rests and regroups.
Suddenly, they hear a thump-thump sound and notice that, foolishly, nobody put their two torches out, so it has attracted a giant’s attention! The party uncovers a hole in the floor and throws their torches down to behold racks upon racks of items and artifacts in a small, dug out chamber below.
Alaric, ever the brave soul, elects to go down first, quickly followed by all his party members, save for the wizard. And just in the nick of time. A giant fist flies all but eviscerates the store window and comes inches away from David’s face, making the entire building around them collapse. David decides to jump just as this is happening. He falls in slow mo, and when Alaric catches him, the ranger notices the gnome is a little wet on the underside. Awwwww!
The party has a very safe hidey hole down here in this pit. The room is a treasure cellar/wine cellar/man cave. No weapons are down here—only things of greed, avarice, and relaxation. The party decides to camp out here because it is warm and there are recliners. Rhaine’s wyvern faithfully watches over them at the entrance while they sleep.