The awful pun in the title was gleefully suggested by the boy s as we worked out what to call the Twitch stream on social media – and I couldn’t help but give the nod to it. I’m blaming that decision on what I thought was a head cold – that has since revealed itself to be another bout of Covid. What joy.
Anyway – we picked up outside a deserted shrine that bore some old markings of Onatar – and so may have originally been a forge. Appropriately enough then, Karkanna had chosen this as her base, and she showed no fear despite the superior numbers arrayed against her. Thorin’s outburst of surprise was matched by Valenia moving swiftly to bring a blade to Karkanna’s throat – a move that was deftly parried, and no more.
Karkanna claimed to be glad they’d arrived and that there was a lot to talk about. She agreed that she had a lot of explaining to do – and invited the group into the ruin to her camp so they could do so in relative comfort. As she led them in, they saw a series of tarpaulin lean-tos under the broken ceiling. There was a campfire with a kettle of water over it, and equipment in various stages of being packed. There were also three cages a short distance away, each with a sleeping naked dwarf in them. Karkanna said, when challenged, that they would stay there until they could control themselves. This was not taken well by the group.
The conversation began with a confrontational and direct tone – and Karkanna met aggressive questioning with assertive answers that reinforced the relationship between her and Thorin. She talked of how they’d gone different paths, and how Thorin had always been better at making friends and allies. They talked about the Last War, and how she’d fought and fought and seen him and his brother get all acclaim and glory. How they called Thorin a hero and shrank from her – and then she had gone on fighting while everyone celebrated the end of the Last War. The creatures climbing up from The Pit took no notice of the politics of the surface and still needed to be fought. Her lonely war took her down into The Pit. She had no one to live for, so she became death to the dolgrims and dolgaunts and aberrations crawling up from Kyber.
And then she was captured.
A group of six mindflayers lay in wait on her last foray into the dark. When challenged on how they’d stopped her, she asked if the group had ever met mindflayers – and pointed out how powerful their mental attacks are. Karkanna was overcome and taken before the Daelkyr and the power of Xoriat reworked her to become a werewolf – the first created since the pogroms of the Silver Flame hunted them all down.
The questions kept coming, and Karkanna kept answering, unburdening herself. The mind flayers had an alliance with duergar who dug up to meet the miners of Clan Amberhammer as they descended. She returned to the Hold with disguised duergar allies to find her father dying and was compelled to bite him and inflict lycanthropy on him. The curse would keep him alive and keep him as leverage over the Clan. That was the signal for the Cult of the Triumphant Dead to rise and overrun the mines and the Hold.
She was compelled to bite many of the Clan and convert them. They were expelled into the countryside to spread chaos and confusion and spread the curse across the mountains. Granite from The Pit was brought up and used to construct the plinth and portal site seen in the formal gardens outside. It was at this point that Karkanna asked Thorin if he still had their father’s axe – that it was safe. The relief on her face when he produced it was palpable.
Karkanna revealed she’d sent it to him to keep it away from the mind flayers as they needed it to complete a ritual. The heirloom axe was linked to the Amberhammer Clan and by extension the rule of the land. The cult intended to conduct a ritual to destroy the axe while it was linked to the Clan – ie while attuned to the Clan leader – thereby destroying the symbol of rule and supplanting the Clan as the lords of the land.
Karkanna had overheard talk of a further alliance – of a plan to bring Winter across the Mountains. The Powers of Xoriat would reach out to Winter’s EverIce and bring chaos and madness and death and claim the mountains forever. Karkanna broke the mental domination and sent the axe away – once Thorin attuned to the axe, it removed the threat to their father as his death wouldn’t achieve the ritual’s aims. If she had taken the axe and assumed control, it would have achieved nothing. She then fled and started trying to rein in her wayward Pack. She slew any that could not control the curse.
She then took Thorin to one side to reveal the other reason she had acted to defend the Clan after so long. In a crib under a nearby tarpaulin was a six-month-old baby dwarf – her son. She brought him out and introduced Loris Amberhammer to his uncle, and the rest of the DDC.
This broke the ice conclusively, and a good period of time was spent updating Karkanna on Thorin’s adventures – and adopted wider family in the form of Odif and Coal – which was also news to Arwan who hadn’t met either of them. A good few stories and anecdotes passed back and forth before the evening began to draw in. Caeluma negotiated the release of the dwarves from their cages – Broadhand Tam: a guard, and Ennis and Thantyr Amberhammer, smiths and artificers of the Clan – and a reluctant and wary trio started preparing spaces for the group to strike their own camp.
Plans then began to be drawn up on what to do next. Karkanna claimed that Thorin should be able to rally those of the Clan and surrounding area who had fled – to form a new militia as he had in days gone by. Karkanna said she would be able to gather at least some of the werewolves to fight on their behalf. Talk turned to whether the Silver Flame army near Cragwar could be of help, but Karkanna pushed back – the Silver Flame zealots would wipe out the Amberhammers as tainted by the curse. She would not risk her son for that.
Arwan set up a ritual to Commune with their gods – asking if their situation and that of the Clan was known to the Sovereign Host, whether there was any aid the gods could send, and whether they had a chance of winning. The answers were positive, negative, and positive again. When relaying these answers, Karkanna noted drily that of course the gods knew, that the DDC were the help sent, and that there was always a chance.
Kerne was taken by the references to Winter and reached out through her journal to contact her lost sister – Faye – last seen fleeing the Winter’s Knight. For once, the stilted written conversations gave useful information. The EverIce was the name given to the far frozen north, rumoured to bury a lost culture. The Winter’s Knight was working with the Cult of the Triumphant Dead to bring that icy cover to the mountains and across the lands in a never-ending winter. Secondly, the artificial dreamlily that the DDC had destroyed had had a hidden effect, to make anyone exposed to it vulnerable to fey magics. Kaye had fled to keep the secret of the drug and the processes and spells required from the forces of Winter.
Suddenly a lot of puzzle pieces were falling into place for the group as the wider picture and stakes became clear. Karkanna identified two possible places where refugees may have gathered – and the group resolved to sleep on it and come to terms with the enormity of the task before them