Our Setting: The Northlands, a cold and frozen region of fjords, high fells and moorland, and towering mountains. In the frigid earth below lies the Underworld, a region of disorder and irrationality with a crude awareness and sentience that wants nothing more than to spread and grow, to imprison those who venture within, and to consume all life.
Many generations ago the ancients built a series of rune-sealed cairns and barrows atop those spots where the Underworld erupted up into the Waking World. These structures, linked by lines of standing stones and dolmens that wrote out a great runic spell across the rime-bitten landscape, capped the bleed of unreason and atavistic corruption and bound the Underworld deep in the earth.
Down below the Underworld waited, a 'steep and thorn-choked path' that dead souls had to navigate on their way to the Summerlands deep below. For untold years it poisoned the spirits of great dreamers and weak-willed heroes, and its creatures clawed their way up to those places where the spell-weave was weak to cause havok and devastation. And all the while the wind and rain beat away at the standing stones and weathered the deep-graven runes, and the bindings began to fail...
Our Cast (thus far):
Cairbre, a Chaotic death-cultist and priest of Ithir Dearg. Like a baby suckling wolves, Cairbre consorts with the forces of death and suffering in the hopes of being protected from their wrath. Pain is power, fear is safety.
Eimhir of Assynt Broch, a Chaotic druid disenchanted by civilisation after being assimilated for a few years, who took to the mountains seeking to escape
Florentia Silverfist, a Chaotic barbarous outsider from the warm moon-washed lands of the South in pursuit of riches and violence.
The party set out from the ancient watchtower of Assynt Broch, pursuing a rumour from the east that a homesteader's workers had spotted a corpse shambling around the mouth of a valley called Blódengard. Eimhir, a native of the region, was able to reveal that the valley had a dark reputation: somewhere the Underworld had always been dangerously close to the surface, and later the site of a great battle that watered the soil with blood and set the Underworld free.
Arriving in Blódengard they quickly spotted the great barrow built on the lower slopes of the valley, and approached to investigate. The door that had sealed the barrow lay scattered around in ruined flakes, the largest of them marked with icy handprints, and seemed to have been blasted open from the inside. The party approached to investigate as a fell wind gusted out of the mouth-like entrance, and as Eimhir spotted signs that the earth around the barrow had been disturbed pale frost-crusted hands began clawing their way out of the dirt.
Florentia steps forward and skewers one of the creatures and messily bisects it even as it struggles to rise, while Cairbre slips inside the cairn into the shadows. Eimhir calls upon the memory of the great cats of her mountain wanderings and shapeshifts into a sabre-tooth tiger, pouncing on one of the wraiths and bearing it to the ground where she tears at its throat and rakes at its chest.
Inside the barrow Cairbre feels the great slow-moving weight of the Underworld's consciousness touch their mind, bringing to their mind a vision of a great natural cave-mouth ringed with thorns and inhabited by some unseen presence. Outside Eimhir continued to tear into the wraith beneath her as another moved to menace her from behind, while Florentia struggled to ward off the last of the frost-crusted undead.
After regaining their senses Cairbre emerges from the barrow, engaging from surprise with the wraith creeping up on Eimhir, who meanwhile returns to her normal form to find that clawing and biting is far less effective with human teeth and fingernails. While she continues to be equally ineffectively at beating the wraith with her staff, Florentia has struggles of her own as she tries to fend off not only the rusted iron sword but the chill ice-taloned hands of her opponent.
Cairbre's mace quickly pulverises the head of their opponent, but it doesn't seem to faze the wraith and so they slip away into the barrow's shadows with the creature in hot pursuit. Eimhir disengages from her wraith and reestablishes some distance, but it isn't enough to prevent its icy touch from searing her face and arm to the bone with frostbite causing her to fall to the ground as her vision darkens and her soul begins to sink through the earth into Death.
Florentia reestablishes some distance and slices her opponent in half with one brutal swing of her greatsword before spotting Eimhir's fallen body and moving over to defend it from the surviving wraith left outside. Cairbre clenches at their wounds and dedicates their suffering to Ithir Dearg, and the god sends them a vision revealing the wraiths' weaknesses and reaching inside their adventuring gear they find a torch and flint-and-steel with which they burn the pursuing wraith to ashes.
Eimhir sinks into the earth as her druidic teachings foretold, but feels the hungry mind of the Underworld reaching out to unmake and consume her before she can rejoin with the soil. A shroud of raven weathers close around her as their elderly owner, iron-toothed and grey-and-gold eyed, shields her from the Underworld's reach.
Florentia swiftly slays the last of the wraiths now that she has room to use her greatsword to full advantage, while Cairbre notices that a few stones have been removed from the main passage of the barrow just a little way inside and that a dead body is half-hanging out of the hole. Eimhir's mysterious benefactor reveals that they remain in the Raven's Shade, the half-world that lies between living and dying, and that she will restore Eimhir to life in exchange for carrying out certain tasks and being her eyes and hands and mouthpiece in the world above.