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September 14, 2013, 11:35 am

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Winter's Gem


Bluest of sapphires; the ice-cold jewel. From its hoary breath flows the bitter winter winds. The Lady Karina sits there for all eternity, looking deep into the eyes of her lover.

Table of Contents

    The white blizzard blew down from the mountain height, bringing with it the icy touch of an early winter. It spread and spread for mile upon mile. Yet its advance began to slow; minutely at first, until its widening grasp finally reached the barest of a crawl. When all was said and done, the ferocious storm had spread nearly one hundred miles.

    When summer came to the rest of the world, winter stayed in that place. The snow continued to fall, the bitter winds continued to blow. Those who did not flee the unnatural weather for warmer climes were doomed to die of cold and starvation, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. It is said that the Lord of Centrick Castle and his entire family died in their sleep, frozen to death.

    Mages, those most in tune with the weather, the elements, and the land, were dispatched to investigate. First the weather wizards were struck by gigantic balls of ice lobbed at them from afar. Then the fires of the elementalists were quashed with hale and icicle; their attempts at binding the water within the storm proved utterly ineffective. Lastly, those wise in the ways of the spirits of the land said they could tell nothing beyond the terrible howling scream which drowned out all else.

    The storm had at first expanded by miles each day. Then by thousands of feet. Then hundreds. Then tens. Eventually it slowed to inches per month. Unable to penetrate its depths and with a wary expectation that it would stay in its present state without expanding further, the world moved on. Brave and curious souls would occasionally attempt to breach the storm, but all turned back before covering the first mile. Each and every one of them made the same claim: the storm increased in intensity with every step they took.

    Three score and five years have passed since the storm appeared and it shows not a single sign of breaking. There is only the wind, the driving snow, and an impenetrable mystery.

    The Gems of Elemental Eternity

    The Legend

    There is a legend from long ago that says the goddess of the moon once demanded a necklace made of stars strung together. Her consort, the sun, sent his most trusted servant far into the heavens to retrieve the brightest and most beautiful gems from the night sky with which to fashion this necklace.

    But, being jealous of the times the moon goddess spent out of his sight, the sun had an enchantment placed upon the necklace which would reveal to him any infidelity on her part.

    It happened that the servant of the sun had fallen in love with the moon. He professed his love for her in secret. Though she did not return his feelings, the sun learned of this through the necklace and flew into a rage, striking them both in his fury. In the midst of the commotion, the beautiful necklace was sundered and the brilliant gems strung upon it were flung onto the far corners of the world. The servant he banished into the underworld and the moon he locked away for an entire year.

    During its time near the moon, each gem had become tied to a different aspect of the elements and the forces of nature. The green brought spring and fresh life. The red brought summer and fire. The orange brought fall and the hunter's power. The blue brought winter winds and the power of dreams. And so on. Each gem landed in a different area of the world and each has its own story to tell.

    The Long Dream

    When the blue gem fell to the earth it struck the peak of Mount Lukwald in the far north and shattered into a number of smaller pieces. Most were too fractured or minute and lost their power. There was one in particular, however, both large enough and complete enough that it held onto a significant portion of its original energies. The cold and the wind and the freezing sleet and snow grew outward from its center.

    The effects on the weather were little noticed for some time, for it dwelled in a land already choked with perpetual snow.

    So it sat. And waited. And dreamt.

    Centuries passed and the gem did not move. Yet in time, its wanderings upon the path of dreams led it to the nocturnal imaginings of a young woman. Drawn to her energy, vitality, and nightly dreams of the pleasant life of a Jarl's daughter, the gem visited her, keeping an eye from afar.

    For the next few years the gem observed her life through the lens of her dreams. Her fears and hopes and aspirations were all magnified in her dreams and it gave the gem a glimpse of something more than just resting alone upon a mountain height.

    And then one eve the dreams became nightmares. What precisely had happened the gem could only put together piecemeal.

    She awoke to the heavy smell of smoke. She was thrown into a coughing fit while still groggy from her dreams of the peaceful meadows of her younger days. Stumbling about she managed to exit her room, only to be confronted by flames crawling upon the walls and ceiling and the screams of death and battle from outside.

    In a panic, she flung herself toward the room of her younger brothers. Heart beating in terror, throat closed in panic and the choking grip of the smoke, she threw herself through the doorway and into...

    Everything shifted and she stood outside in the snow watching the home of her father crumble into ash and flame. Before her lay the mangled bodies of her parents and her father's warband.

    The dream narrowed and focused, until she could see only the panicked eyes of her brothers as they struggled to find breath through the blood welling out of their slit throats.

    The faces changed, merged, until they became one face. A face like a hawk, with scars upon one cheek. A face that looked large and cruel and smelled of blood and ale.

    The gem recoiled from this. For a time it sat and pondered. It missed the woman terribly, yet it did not wish to face that unending darkness. It attempted to search for another mind, yet none held the light and life which hers had.

    So it waited and it pondered some more.

    In the end it made its decision.

    Once again she dreamt, and once again she watched her brothers die and then morph into the face of her tormentor. Her husband by right of possession. He had rebuilt her father's old home and made her his bride therein. Her feet were shackled to a chain no longer than six feet, affixed to the floor with a single great bolt.

    She waited, terror upon terror, for the next moments of the dream to commence. That ultimate violation upon her soul, performed before the very eyes of her dead kin.

    This time the terrible things did not come. Instead the pieces of her dream froze and were lost to a flurry of snow. She looked down and watched the chain, that damned chain upon her ankle in both her waking and sleeping life, watched that chain freeze and then shatter.

    A warm, comforting presence beckoned her from that awful scene and she followed gladly. Out toward the snow, into the forest of stately pine, she followed that shadowy presence. Through the long night she went, her dream feet crunching upon the soft fresh snow in a tireless stride, the chilly wind gently caressing her face, and the smell of pine in her nose.

    She lost sight of the formless thing and in its place appeared the narrow opening of a cavern. She ducked within and her breath caught in her throat at what lay below.

    Eight great giants formed of ice and frost stood in a semicircle, arms folded and visages intent with a peculiar solemnity. As one they all bowed to her. As one they pointed to a space in their midst.

    She descended stone steps, hearing the sounds her dream feet made echoing off the far walls, until she stood in the midst of the eight giants of ice and frost. At her feet lay a pile of clothing, white leather and white fur forming a set of trousers, tunic, and hooded cloak. Nearby lay a belt of white leather, next to a scabbard and sword of silver and alabaster.

    The dream had been sent and now the gem must wait. Months went by, yet the gem waited patiently. For had it not been waiting so very long already? And what else did it have but time. Every night it sent the same dream, saving her from her nightmares and giving her hope.

    The ice golems were sent to the edge of the storm. They could proceed no further on their own. So, like their master, they waited.

    And then one night, almost at the break of dawn, she appeared before the ice golems, her torn dress and blond tresses drenched in mud and blood, a savage look upon her wan face. As instructed, the eight golems led her into the edge of the storm. The icy cold of snow and wind parted before her, letting her through until she could reach the cave. Within the cave, she cast aside the trappings of her humiliation, bathed within a natural pool of water, and dressed in the fine white leather and fur trappings.

    Again she followed the giants made of ice and frost.

    The Lady Karina

    Two years after the mysterious death of the upstart Jarl Bhacklen (some say it was at the hands of a servant; not that anyone would make a connection between the two events) a woman appeared out of the far north, dressed all in white and carrying a sword at her hip while sporting a large blue sapphire on a chain about her neck. She would give only her first name, Karina, and refuse to name her family, though it was obvious she was of noble birth and upbringing.

    Being beautiful and full of a confidence alternately quiet and outspoken, Karina found herself easily accepted into a noble house of the Southwest. And, just as easily, she found herself engaged to a dashing young nobleman. The young Lord Centrick, with his thick black hair, piercing blue eyes, and ready humor, quickly stole her heart away and married her in due haste.

    For thirty years the Lady Karina lived a fairytale life with her noble husband and their growing family. She was able to put behind her the horrors of her youth. She kept the sapphire with her always, either about her neck or near to hand. She was often to be seen caressing it tenderly with a slight, knowing smile upon her face.

    Forever Slumber

    The gem enjoyed those long years, basking in the ever increasing pleasantness of her dreams. At her request, the blue gem held back the cold and the snow, content with its place by her gentle heart.

    In the end, though, Lady Karina's fairytale life came crashing down around her with blinding speed. A rival of the Lord Centrick at Court had him and his family poisoned in retribution for a perceived slight. All died in their sleep except for Karina, whose health had been preserved by the gem.

    When she awoke and looked about her at the sorrow and the loss, her dreams shattered, along with her mind. The gem heard her mind cry out in so much pain and anguish that it awoke fully and began to send out tendrils of icy cold.

    Through her tears, Karina watched the cold expand around her. She grabbed the gem and looked deeply into it, just as she had done many times over the years. Something caught her eye within: a movement, a figure, something not completely seen.

    This time the dream reached out and pulled her into it. Desperate to keep her from her grief, the gem wrapped her up completely within the dreams she had fed to it for so long.

    She stands there still, caught in time and memory as she stares at the gem, lost in an endless dream of the pleasant life she almost lost. Meanwhile, a great storm surrounds and protects her from all dangers.

    Campaign Use

    Winter's Gem

    Winter's Gem is an incredibly powerful relic. It is able to control wintry weather (cold, wind, rain, sleet, snow, etc) in a radius of roughly fifty miles. It is also able to create and control constructs made of ice. In addition, wild beasts attuned to colder climes of low to moderate intelligence can be controlled telepathically by it. Even intelligent winter creatures are inclined to obey, though out of respect rather than force.

    The gem is highly telepathic and able to communicate with intelligent species, though only by entering the minds of dreamers. If the subject is in tune with it, such as Karina or a cold-based lifeform, the gem is able to communicate somewhat outside of a dream. In Karina's case, she entered a catatonic state and thus opened herself up to the gem's dream communication.

    If it so desires, the gem can grant an immunity to the cold to any number of individuals within its sphere of influence (50 mile radius.)

    While powerful, the gem is highly intelligent and never a willing tool. It will do what it wishes and any who try to bend it to their use will find themselves facing a capable adversary.

    Investigating the Storm

    This can begin in a number of ways:

    • The PCs are curious and simply wish to explore the storm.
    • A relative of Lord Centrick is offering a reward to anyone who can discover the cause of the storm. the reward is double for those who can end the storm and restore the castle.
    • The PCs are on a quest to gather up all of the Elemental Gems. Being knowledgeable about the gems, they already suspect Winter's Gem to be within the storm.

    The most difficult part will be getting into the storm. Brute force would require powerful magic to counteract the fierceness of the storm (which will increase in ferocity if anyone the gem deems unworthy attempts to enter.) Use of Summer's Ruby (the red Elemental Gem) would work. Brute force will entail a great deal of difficulty, as the gem will throw numerous ice golems and other such creatures into their path.

    Clever PCs who are aware of the nature of the storm, or even individuals sleeping near the storm whom the gem finds interesting, may be able to contact the gem in their dreams and convince it to let them in. It is not easily fooled, for our dreams reveal our true selves, and so such an attempt must be without guile. Navigating the dreams of the gem would be an adventure in itself.

    If the gem is removed from Lady Karina's grasp, her aging body will give out and she will die. The bodies of her family are nearby, all preserved by the freezing cold.

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    Comments ( 14 )
    Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

    Voted Shadoweagle
    September 15, 2013, 18:17
    A rich tale you have spun, Moon! This gem is definitely not something you would want to give to low level pc's; in fact, all the gems seem better off as a plot device as opposed to something they can use.

    If the pc's found a cave system of some sort, will that allow them travel in relative safety?
    September 15, 2013, 18:27

    An interesting question. Most likely it would require the gem to consciously create bad weather inside of a cave, but in all likelihood it would be a safe haven from the weather. There may be ice golems or other nasties patrolling such an area, however.

    As far as being used by PCs: Being intelligent, the gem would only be useful to a party if it wished to be. Its powers are entirely under its own control so it would be useful only under circumstances it agreed with. In fact, it could make life very difficult for a party it did not wish to be a part of. As such, it is far more likely to be useful to a GM as a particular plot device, as you say.

    Voted Chaosmark
    September 15, 2013, 20:32
    I'll echo SE here and applaud the richness of the tale you've woven. I like the item, and the explanation given for the storm is just the kind of "independent actors doing what feels appropriate to their personal story" that happens in the real world.

    I do think that this would be a bit hard to use, but it would make for a good piece of world background. The storm has always been there, as long as anyone can remember. Nobody knows its secrets, for nobody has ever made it to the heart of the storm. I can see it being exactly the sort of dangerous refuge entered by a party on the run hoping to deter pursuers that we see in great literary tales.
    September 15, 2013, 21:09

    I like the idea of the mysterious storm; it fits in with how I envisioned it.

    This sub is kind of a departure from the last few I've done. I'll admit I was more into the narrative than considering how it could be used in a game. For a storytelling fix it was an interesting exploration :)

    Voted Longspeak
    September 16, 2013, 13:03
    Nearly perfect. Well-written, I love the tone; and the tale, and I can easily this in one of my Everway games. Quite soon.
    Voted Gossamer
    September 19, 2013, 6:36
    Wow, the sun was a real abusive arsehole. I like how the origin story could be related to a natural phenomenon, like uh I dunno, if the weather was so bad they couldn't see the moon or maybe if a cloud of dust covered the sky after a meteor strike or something, in reality it may or may not have been a full year, but in narrative form it sounds more dramatic.

    It read very smoothly, with lots of nice details, I highly enjoyed reading this. Nothing seems to be missing, though I would advise you to put in a break or two before the first quote, since the ToC compresses it. Your ego can rest easy on this one, full score from me. :)
    Voted valadaar
    September 19, 2013, 15:42

    Very, very good! Love the tale and the idea of a perpetual storm.

    This appears like it would be compatible with the Shards of the Storm set of items, from the ancient days of Strolens.

    Shards of the Storm

    December 4, 2015, 18:38
    I have the same thought as well, Val. Great minds think alike *wink*
    Voted Eric the Grey
    October 12, 2013, 12:28
    I loved the narrative you've put behind this gem. I hope to see stories for the rest.

    As to use in game, I can see some extremely difficult times acquiring the gem and putting an end to the storm.
    Voted caesar193
    February 10, 2014, 13:44
    The narrative is excellent. I can only, sadly, echo those before me, except for this: why didn't I vote on this before?
    Voted PoisonAlchemist
    October 22, 2014, 16:43
    I very much like this.

    My one note is that I feel it is unnecessarily dark. The gem could have desired her company and drawn her to it without terrible things happening to the girl. How could someone who in their formative years experiences that trauma grow to have a functional healthy relationship with a nobleman?

    I've just read a couple subs where women are violated and its a bit fatiguing and starts to feel trope-like. I've used it too, but here it just stuck out to me as unnecessary.
    October 22, 2014, 17:39

    While I enjoy being lighthearted and joke a lot in chat, I do tend to go to very dark places when I write. Sort of cathartic, I suppose, but you're not the first to say that it goes a bit far. (And you may want to avoid my journey into hell piece)

    I'll explain some of my thought processes and how those map to what I was probably trying to express (though I usually have to guess after the fact; I never quite understand my creative side):

    The gem took the brightness of her mind for granted at first, which is why it never called her to it before. It only called to her once her light became darkness, in order to regain the bright soul it had lost. I have felt that frustration, seeing bright people grow into broken adults because of traumas they survived, and I have wished for the power to banish that darkness. I've also realized that most people can only find salvation after they've broken free on their own to a certain degree. (And talk about a horrific challenge...)

    I would say that it is possible to have a functional relationship, though even with the best of help, some scars will always show through. Of course, I skipped over 2 years worth of Karina gaining back her own power and having her mind magically healed to a degree by the gem. Still, if I was to go more in depth, I probably would need to show some jagged pieces of her past that poked through into her fairy-tale marriage.

    Looking more closely at this, I can see some strong parallels with some real life events experienced by people I've known (though it's a bit of a mish-mash and more metaphor than literal). Not going into details, but it's bizarre how the mind transforms the mundane into the fictional.

    You are probably correct that it becomes a trope at some point, and shouldn't be overdone. This was one of those subs that I pretty much barfed out in one sitting without having any real clue what was going to come out. I just knew I was feeling the urge to express something and I couldn't find any better medium. I wouldn't have consciously chosen this topic, as I've seen it done to death myself. But, when the muse stamps her impatient little feet, I come running ;)

    In any case, I appreciate the thoughtful feedback

    Voted Moonlake
    December 4, 2015, 18:42
    This isn't one of my 5s for which I pretty much need to be swept off my feet but for me, it is perfectly written and I wouldn't want a thing changed. So congrats on a very well written sub. I'm glad that you followed your impulse and churned this out.
    Voted Dossta
    December 8, 2015, 14:11
    I enjoy submissions with an almost "mythological" tone, both in the writing and in the content. It was very fun to expand on, and I hope you don't mind me basing a sub off of this one.

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