Reign of Winter
And so it begins
Katarina hated the screams that would come from the locked room in her master’s quarters. They would echo throughout the Pale Tower for hours. An unmoving, bloodied hooded figure was then dragged from the room back to a heavily fortified cell. Katarina was forced to clean the chamber of the blood and magical residue afterwards. Inside, the room was covered in strange magical markings and smelled like lightening. While she scrubbed, she wondered how the captive survived the sessions with Nazhena.
It had been a particularly difficult period of time at the Pale Tower. Nazhena had encountered some difficulties with her research and was taking it out on the slaves. Three had been killed in recent weeks because of her temper, including the slave who looked after the captive. Katarina had been tasked with his care now. While she empathised with his plight, she didn’t want to go anywhere near him as when the research began to fail again Katarina would bear the brunt of Nazhena’s displeasure.
Katarina carried the plate of food carefully down the corridor towards the cell. It was blissfully quiet in there. She placed the food on the floor and unlocked the door. Compared to the other cells throughout the Pale Tower this one didn’t smell like stale straw and dirty human. The man inside was elven but not like any elf Katarina had ever seen. The elven features were softer somehow, the ears more rounded. Katarina realised he was a half elf. He was unbound and sat calmly at the back of the cell.
“You are different to the ones who usually come. They usually push the food under the door and run. Please stay” he said in elven.
That was the first visit of many. Katarina came to enjoy her visits to the prisoner. She would clean the wounds he received when in the locked chamber with Nazhena, she would listen to him as he told her of the many lands of Golarion. She marvelled that not everywhere was snow covered. He even told her of lands that had never had snow at all. He shared his belief in Milani with her and read from the Light of Hope. His favourite passage was: You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful cycle of tyranny; rather, serve one another to repair what was once broken. A calm must always follow the storm.
29 years after she had been brought to the Pale Tower as a slave, Nazhena took an apprentice. He was a snivelling little rat named Radosek Pavril. He had been kidnapped from Taldor, one of the lands without snow that Delithan the captive had told her of. He was an entitled young upstart who believed he was extremely powerful. He treated the slaves with disdain and cruelty, Katarina most of all as she was Nazharena’s personal servant. Radosek made no attempt to hide his sexual relationship with Nazhena, rather lording it over anyone who crossed his path.
It was around this time that Katarina began to feel the pull of magic. She was cleaning the chamber when Radosek came in and attempted to strike her. She instinctively raised her hand and willed him to sleep. When he crumpled to the floor, snoring softly, she turned and ran. She ran to Delithan’s cell but he was unconscious only recently having finished a session with Nazhena in the magic chamber. Radosek and Nazhena caught up to her in one of the Pale Tower hallways.
“Radosek tells me that you cast a spell on him in the chamber.” Nazhena said softly. “I didn’t believe him, I test all the slaves when they arrive and I have never seen an elf use a hex. Come with me Katarina and we will have a little talk”.
Katarina slowly followed Nazhena. She wanted to punch Radosek in his smug face, and vowed to come back as a spirit and plague his days after Nazhena killed her. What followed was not her death but rather becoming Nazhena’s apprentice.
She remained Delithan’s caretaker. Nazhena valued Delithan, believing he and his strange ability to discover and map dragon-lines was imperative to her research, as that research progressed, he became more valuable. His care therefore was the duty of an apprentice. Katarina didn’t care, they had become friends and she enjoyed spending time with the half-elf. Delithan was strangely animated at the news that Katarina had become an apprentice. He had been spending less time in the chamber recently and more time in Waldsby with Nazhena. When he returned from Waldsby though he spent hours poring over Light of Hope and muttering.
It was after one of these visits to Waldsby when he grasped Katarina’s arms and pulled her close to him. He whispered in her ear:
“I need to know if you are loyal to Milani and would sacrifice everything in the pursuit of freedom.” His fingers tightened around her arm.
She nodded and he released her.
“Now that you are an apprentice, you have more contact with the White Witches and their research. I work for an organisation called the Heralds of Summer’s Return. We work to overthrow the White Witches and end their tyranny. Will you help?”
Katarina realised the gravity of this work. If she was caught, she would be killed, as would Delithan. She thought of all the slaves who had come and gone throughout the years, the cruelty that had been shown to them, and how the White Witches ruled Irrisen with an iron fist. She thought of how her family had been lost to her, she didn’t know if her family were alive or dead. She agreed to become a spy in the ranks for the Heralds of Summer’s return.
Katarina and Delithan worked in secret for 11 years. Messages would come from the leader of the Herald’s in Irrisen, Solveig Ayrdahl, through Delithan. Katarina would then use her position as Nazhena’s apprentice to enact the messages. During this time, Katarina became Nazhena’s star apprentice. Radosek could not compete on a magical level with Katarina, and even sleeping with Nazhena could not buy him the position of favoured apprentice. He began to poison Nazhena against Katarina by spreading lies about her loyalty. He told Nazhena that Katarina had been selling her secrets to another of the white witches, Frederyka, to bring about a change of mastery at the Pale Tower. At first Nazhena didn’t really believe him, after all Katarina only left the Pale Tower in her company, and then only when Nazhena wanted to impress the other Jadwiga with her pretty and complaint little elf. Then she remembered seeing Katarina talking with Frederyka at a recent party in Whitethrone. She flew into a rage and ransacked Katarina’s room. What she found was not evidence of selling secrets to Frederyka, but her association with the Heralds of Summer’s Return.
She screamed and began yelling throughout the castle for Katarina’s head. Luckily at this point Katarina was out at the nearby Witch-Tree gathering bark and fungus for her potions. She was about to begin her journey back to the Pale Tower when Delithan arrived with a packed backpack. He grabbed her arm and urged her to run towards the nearby Village.
“Nazhena knows about the Herald’s, we must run.”
They ran late into the night, sheltering briefly in a cave before running on at Dawn’s first weak light. Katarina and Delithan were close to the port city of Kizobran, when they felt the unmistakeable build up of lightening in the air.
“We are found” called Delithan “We cannot be caught, keep running no matter what”
At that Nazhena’s booming voice was heard across the snow.
“I have found you treacherous elf. And you Delithan, why do you run? Have you forgotten how this ends every time you disobey me?” Katarina looked back at Delithan. He urged her to keep running. She was about to turn back to concentrate on her flight when she saw an arrow of ice appear in Delithan’s chest. The light of life left him. Katarina kept running, honouring the last request he made of her.
Over the growing sounds of a blizzard developing, Katarina thought she heard a voice. It sounded vaguely magical and she was suddenly covered on snow and ice. The ice was held away from her face at about 1 inch by a magical barrier. She lay still, feeling that this was a help not her impending death. She laid there for hours, knowing that she had caused Delithan’s death. She vowed to hunt down every last Winter Witch in the kingdom of Irrisen and send them to their maker. Only then would Delithan’s death be avenged, and her duty done.
During the darkest part of the night, a face appeared through the snow.
“Come. I assume you are Katarina, I am Sigvor Yovenovich. Solveig contacted me and asked me to find you and Delithan and convey you to safety. I am sorry about Delithan. However his death might have saved your life. Nazhena is spending time collecting his body giving you the chance to get away.”
Thus began Katarina’s flight through the lands of Golarion. She ran for many months stopping briefly in a number of town through the land. When she entered the small town of Heldren, almost as far away as she could be from Irrisen that she felt a familiarity which made her want to stop. Why she chose Heldren, she wasn’t sure but it just felt right. She thought about the stories that Delithan used to tell her, and she was sure that this was a place with no snow. A good place to escape the Winter Witches.