Prelude: Children in the Darkest Season
Winter had fallen over Altera. The last week had seen constant snowfall, blanketing the streets and the roofs, the mountains and the fields, everything painted over by an all-encompassing whiteness. The docks have frozen over now, devoid of any ships as extended the shore. Only the hardiest of fishermen now walked out to that icy beach, cutting holes into the open waters so they could continue their trade. The nuns of the Church of First Light have been hard at work as well, meticulously sweeping snow off the countless steps leading up to the mountainside temple. It was in the darkest of seasons that faith burned the brightest, and braziers lined the path upwards, burning fiercely day in and day out. Though the nights were devastatingly cold, festive souls made merry regardless of the weather, passing mead and meat, singing praises to Ain-Mala for the bountiful autumn harvest that allowed them to enjoy so much food in the desolate months to come.
But bodies were always found within the Southern Districts, frozen solid in the sudden whiteouts that rush through the land. Guards and monster hunters alike work in constant fear of their extremities freezing off. The task of clearing out the roads is constant and unending, and more than just a few buildings have collapsed under the weight of the snow pressing down upon them. Monsters, seeking easy prey, attack caravans from Andeave headed to resupply the storehouses of Fort Stalwart, the fortress guarding the single mountain path that leads up to the wider lands of Altera. Life and death stood hand-in-hand during the desolate season, and souls left the body as easily as white breath.
Lethality, however, was no deterrent to the needs of the body, and even now, crowds of people gathered in the grayish central plaza of the Seaside Fortress-City of Andeave. It was early in the morning and the sun had yet to come up, illumination found only in the torches lit and the reflection of the hard-packed snow in the plaza. Huddling around self-made fires for warmth, party members discussed the work of the day, where they’d go hunting, where they’d go slaying. Some stamped warmth into their cold feet, others stood brazenly against the winter’s chill, and still more were performing the rituals demanded of them before they marched outside the safety of Andeave’s walls, whether it be holy supplication or barbarous libation. The winter season was bereft of particularly great bounties, not that many wanted to take them to begin with when conditions reduced combat effectiveness so readily, but there were still a smattering of possibilities, for those brave enough to take them.
After all, snow didn’t trespass so easily in the bowels of the mountains; subterranean monstrosities were the ones that became popular during this season. Giant worms, arachnids in their web-drenched lairs, that roving band of goblins that had become such a threat over the months, and the kobolds that made the tunnels their home. For those less-enthused about delving into the claustrophobic depths, however, there was always a need for members of the Silver Moon Army to work escort jobs bringing caravans filled with supplies to the Fort in the mountains. Equestrian skill was a necessity, however, and for most, that barred them from partaking in such quests. Ordinary civilians wanted no part in such a dangerous job either; two out of three caravans were attacked on these snowbound roads, and most of them were utterly decimated in the aftermath.
Still, for work that didn’t necessary equate to facing off a highly lethal monster, it paid well enough, and was work that never had an end to it. The dead were simply unfortunate, and when parties like Etono’s were (reputedly) raking in tons of Gold by completing this job…well, it certainly made one dream. A merchant’s life was a couple steps safer than a monster hunter’s, and perhaps one simply needed to find the correct route to make it to the Fort safely.
The dark day continued, plans being sharpened along with weapons, the deliberations of the day's adventures keeping one's mind off the incessant chill in their bones.