Two Weeks Later

The ritual to open the way to the Hanging Glacier may only be performed on a night of the new moon. Thus a fortnight’s wait is incurred.

Lendela and her people have now arrived, bolstering the ranks of the ice elves. The party have re-located their camp once more to one of the Rakeskia’s ice-cave hideouts, this time a fair distance from the western peak of Ymir’s Fang where the fortress lies. A close watch is kept on the shamaness Lyrina at all times.

Her closest bodyguard, in every sense, is Albrigon, with whom she is now entirely enamoured. The other ice elves are somewhat disquieted by her sudden surrender to the attentions of this human, although they recognise that he has played an important part in the rescue of their people. But she will hear none of their advice that no good will come of this union. He has even managed to persuade her that it will be necessary, for the good of her people, to gather the forbidden metallic shards, though the prospect fills her with dread.

Alpine birds have arrived carrying messages from the other tribes that they are sending delegates with armed escorts to the council of war that Lendela has requested.

The party have described to Lendela the region where Valaina’s stronghold is located. Some female scouts are sent to investigate (as they are immune to the enthralling power of the foxwoman). They return a week later, reporting that they found the caves described by the party but that they were empty, though with signs of recent habitation. No tracks could be found. Even Valaina’s menagerie of ice toads had been evacuated.

At last, New Luna has arrived. The party make the ascent of Ymir’s Fang once more, using Chillwind to ferry them to one of their earlier campsites closer to the fortress and then making their way upwards on foot, wanting to conserve their magical resources. A high-altitude cloud is depositing a light snowfall around them, the guttering, icy wind whipping the falling crystals into fantastic swirls and eddies which are revealed by the light of their lanterns. The moisture on their breath freezes and mingles with the snow as they climb the stair that winds up the ridge that lies to the east of the plateau. Albrigon and Lyrina go ahead on Chillwind, waiting for them at the top of the stair. The burly barbarian nods to the fur-clad gnome halberdiers that are waiting by the rope bridge to escort them across to the plateau, eyeing them warily. Lyrina who sits in front of him huddles back a little into the protective circle of his arms, tense with fear and anticipation. Chillwind scans the skies nervously for his skeletal cousin, but there is no visible sign of the undead dragon.

At last the rest of the party reach the top of the stair. They make their way across the bridge and into the ruined fortification…following their gnome escorts across the rubble-strewn, icy courtyard, towards the gatehouse that is carved into the rising mountainside that forms the north-west boundary of the fortress. The doors open to admit them.

Mia telepathically persuades Chillwind to accept another change of form into a serpent to ease his passage through this place. He consents to this, and she turns him into a constrictor snake, which she drapes around her shoulders and waist. From her smile she seems to positively delight in the sensation of him coiling about her petite form!

The interior of the gatehouse is lit by a small fireplace. The animal smell hits the party before they enter. Yetis. Several family groups’ worth have been given this place as a den. The mothers play with their children as the males wrestle or chew on pieces of deer carcass.

The rear exit of the gatehouse that leads into the mountainside beckons. Here the gnome who claims the name of Keraptis awaits with some guards. They lift the bar on the doors and open them. A chill draft wafts out of the yawning cave entrance beyond.

The party pass by some things that look like bits of broken statue. Thankfully they look like pieces of petrified animal, and not elf-child. There are some cattle-like stools that look very gritty and stony. It is evident that a gorgon was recently quartered here.

A portcullis is raised and the party continue further downwards into the heart of Ymir’s Fang, passing through a series of natural caves resplendent with many bizarre and convoluted rock formations. It is clear that Lyrina knows the way very well. She has travelled these subterranean halls hundreds of times before, when the ice-elves’ ownership of the Sacred Glacier was unchallenged by meddling wizards.

At last, the Cave of the Glacier is reached – a place where there are many stalagmites that rise from the floor, fed by dripping water from above. Strangely there are no corresponding stalactites above them. The stalagmites are broad at the base like great cones, with many rippling layers ascending to their upper heights. There is something about them that remind the viewer of a forest of fir trees. There is a well-worn path that winds through them, disappearing beyond sight after a hundred feet or so.

In the vestibule of the cave Lyrina readies herself to perform the sacred ritual, painting sigils onto her face and arms. So well-practised is she, that she needs no mirror to do this. She has to wipe one off and start again though when Albrigon playfully slaps her rump. “Hey, do you have to get naked for this ritual?”

She laughs. Strange, she thinks, I would not normally take amusement from such disrespect. But it’s just the way he says it…

“You should have more reverence, Albrigon. This is a holy place.”

She is prepared. She commences her ritual, raising her arms and invoking the spirits of the mountain. She begins to dance and chant. There is a tingling feeling in the air now, a mystical presence that can be felt by all.

A mist arises in the cavern, and the temperature falls even lower. After around twenty minutes of complex chants and movements, Lyrina sinks to the floor, kneeling to pay her respects to the mountain, pressing her forehead to the rock. She rises and turns to the party.

“The way is open.”

Ugrat growls at Keraptis. “Zhose children, zey bett’r be heer ven vee get bak…you make zem bett’r again, you understand?”

“Oh, just get on with it please. Spare me your bleeding-heart drivel. We made a bargain, I’ll keep my side if you keep yours. That’s all there is.”

The party advance into the mists, Lyrina walking ahead of them confidently, on a path familiar to her.

Soon the crunch of rocky gravel underfoot becomes the crunch of crisp snow. Someone brushing up against a stalagmite finds that it moves. It is a fir tree with white needles. As they progress yet further it becomes a little lighter overhead, not daylight for sure but brighter than two full moons.

The mists thin as they press on, finding themselves pushing through dense fir trees now. “Do not harm the trees.” Lyrina instructs. “The Spirit of the Glacier will be angered.”

The party emerge from the trees to see themselves surrounded by scenery that is fantastically beautiful, and yet somehow eerily familiar. The peaks of Ymir’s Fang still loom to the north, but they seem to be more angular and faceted as if they are some kind of huge crystalline formation rather than mere rock and stone. To the west lies the plateau, but in this place devoid of any fortification and heaped with untouched snow. The party see that they are in a glacial valley. The ice of the glacier here is amazingly clear and beautiful except where it is covered by fallen snows that have, rather improbably, formed patterns of astonishing intricacy. The sides of this valley are thick with fir trees that have white and silver needles, at an altitude that would be inhospitable to any normal vegetation on Oerth. Overhead the sky blazes with stars, countless more than are ever seen in the skies over the Flanaess. The stars seem to form a huge swirling spiral pattern that dominates the sky, with a great glowing centre. There is no moon visible. The only signs of animate life here are small flocks of things that look like birds at first; then closer inspection shows them to be more bat-like. But even this is incorrect, for they have no visible head or body, they seem to be simply disembodied pairs of flapping wings, that glitter and gleam as they flutter about in the starlight, racing each other in and out of the trees. The whole scene has a soft, dream-like quality of unreality.

“Welcome to the Sacred Glacier of Thelandira. Be careful to follow my instructions exactly – there are many spirits in this place. They sleep, now, but we must have a care not to awaken them. Do not do anything to harm the ice of the glacier. Cast no magicks upon it. The ice birds you see will not usually cause harm, but sometimes they gather in larger numbers to attack; if this happens, defend yourselves, and destroy them if you must, but do not harm them otherwise.”

The party proceed down the glaciated ravine until they reach a place where the glacial spur joins a larger glacial river several hundred feet wide. This river can be heard creaking and groaning as it slowly eases forwards in its bed. There are swathes of glittering silvery forest on either side of the broad, shallow valley that it occupies.

Ahead, it can be seen that the glacier’s advance carries it over a precipice. But far from falling, the ice breaks off in chunks….and then floats gently onwards. A glistening causeway of hanging icebergs can be seen trailing off into the far distance until it is lost in the surrounding mists that mark the visible extent of this strange place….

“The Hanging Glacier!” breathes Albrigon. “At Last!”

Previous Installments:

Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 1
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Character Sketch: Snake
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 2
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Character Sketch: Albrigon
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 3
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 4
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Character Sketch: Ugra’at
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 5
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 6
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 7
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Character Sketch: Sorrel
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 8
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 9
Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Character Sketch: Mia