The giants had various gems and coins on them, plus a magic sword that was too big for any of us to use. Still, it might look impressive on someone’s mantle.
I felt better after sitting down for a moment, so we investigated their camp – just beyond the rise. They had their beds inside bonfires, and the number of beds seems to match the number of giants we killed (six) so I hope no one will return from a foraging mission and catch us here. Their backpacks lay in a pile, full of (giant) clothes and foodstuffs (I don’t trust what kind of meat they have), and it looks like they’ve been camped here about a week, sending out hunting or exploration parties into the surrounding mountains. Their tracks went straight up the cliff, though, so only Mikael could follow them – as a bird – and he didn’t see anything interesting in his scan of the surrounding hills. Maybe they had a castle somewhere around here, and maybe they were nomad or bandit fire giants (seems unlikely)…either way, there’s nothing here to point us to their home.
Ezekiel took the ring of regeneration from Lydia before he sent her party back (he says so she didn’t swallow or lose it) so he passed that around. After a few hours wearing it, Agnar looks much perkier.
We spent the night in the giant camp – and nothing attacked us. If Raven and Sirion avoid interacting with anyone on their way, our afternoon rest will have given them a boost.
No tracks of note.
We crossed a pass today. Ezekiel explained something about how the melting snow pours down the mountainsides, and carves new channels and formations…and also sometimes catches people when it all gives way.
I keep learning about new horrifying ways to die.
Found something promising today. We were walking along when Commodore Bearington dove into a snowdrift, and crawled out bearing a frozen horse leg. We burrowed into the drift, and found the rest of the horse easily enough…dressed in the livery of Geoff and Gellsblood.
One of its other legs was broken, and Ezekiel pointed out how a pile of snow, balanced on a ledge above, could have suddenly slipped down and carried the horse along with it. We found no sign of its rider, no matter how wet and frozen our hands got burrowing through the snow…so it’s possible he wasn’t riding at the time, and so escaped the avalanche. The only questions, then, are whether this is Sir Hoshure’s horse – and if so, whether he was traveling the same direction as we are, or was trying to return to the fort after his party was waylaid. There’s not much more this body can tell us…the saddlebag had a map similar to ours (except more smudged), with no extra marks on it to indicate what they encountered.
When we were ready to move on, Agnar asked if we should try a smaller, narrower path off to the side – but Ezekiel was already heading down the main trail, map in hand, and he usually knows where he’s going, so we followed him.
After following it for some time, I was pretty sure all marks of our horse party had disappeared, so it seemed reasonable that they took the hidden side path that wasn’t on the map.
Ezekiel agreed (once he knew it was there) but by then the sun was low enough we decided it’d be safer to find the path in the morning.
[on a scrap of parchment]
Dear Raven (and Sirion),
We aren’t in the fortress because we took the side path heading west behind the big boulder. Please bring the fortress with you – we didn’t want anyone messing up our note – and thank you.
Much to report this time.
Mikael flew up along the trail first off, in case of an ambush, and told us the trail led over a ridge and into a strangely round valley.
We followed the trail and were getting our bearings on the crest above the valley when Raven joined us with Sirion (so I guess he’s still entertained by our company).
Straight ahead, seemingly in the center of the valley, a tower stood…or rather, leaned to one side. At its base lay a lake, covered by mists. The mist made it hard to see anything else from our angle, so we started down the slope.
Before too long, we picked up our party of knights again – and Sirion pointed out how one horse was probably ridden double at this point. Which suggests the horse we found was already lost, and the knights were continuing without it.
But before we were far into the valley, we found signs of struggle – bothered by the elements, but there all the same…blood, metal scraped across rock, trampling hoofmarks. There’s no sign they even had time to set up camp before they were attacked…and whatever set on them took away all the bodies (alive or dead), and all the armor…all but these marks in the earth.
Perhaps they arrived later in the day – because nothing bothered us as we made our way down the valley and around the lake. On the south end (perhaps south-west), we found another path that led up the slope to some kind of tunnel…smooth, square walls of black stone. Ezekiel shivered when he touched them, and we all agreed we need to investigate…later. First, we wanted to check out the tower to make sure our backs were safe.
From the higher slope, we could see better into the lake, and noticed large shapes moving around. We couldn’t see distinctly what they were – only that they were at least as big as Bearington – so none of us was anxious to go swimming.
Fortunately, there was a bridge from the beach to the tower…although the tilt of the tower made everything more precarious. Mikael told us the water and the moss growing on the bridge were perfectly normal and natural…from the black sand, the warm air, and the circular shape of the valley, it seems likely this is the remains of a volcano (or something like – Ezekiel tried to explain the science of volcanos in between trying to cross the bridge).
With Raven’s agile feet, my crampons, and a rope, we all got safely across – although Bearington rocked the whole set-up, and almost got us wet.
Next came actually entering the tower…which was complicated by the end of the bridge connected to the tower being underwater. I don’t know if the building settled after it tipped, or if whatever destabilized it knocked it that far over. Anyway, we all felt up and down the wall for a number of minutes until Sirion pointed out a crack where two sides of a joint weren’t even – and Raven helped him open a secret window (I’m not sure, but I think he was having fun).
Inside, the floor tipped away from us. Broken crockery and bits of kitchen furniture littered the floor. I stood guard with my bow while Raven and Ezekiel poked around, and Mikael enlarged the stone opening of the window so Bearington could squeeze inside.
We found a pantry filled with rotting food, and a chimney too small even for me to squeeze into. The only other door was piled with rubble, and it took us a while to clear.
Beyond was a dining room – the table and chairs tumbled against the far wall. A circular staircase led us upward (Bearington puffing and snuffling), and we found another living space, with paintings of mages fighting devils or something (Ezekiel said he liked them; I don’t know much about art).
The other room of this floor must have been a laboratory or mage study of some kind, since when Ezekiel opened it he got a pile of books, broken bottles, and spell reagents all over him. Raven caught the one bottle that didn’t seem broken, and we are taking care of it until we know what it is.
I don’t believe anyone or anything has been in here for some time…but Sirion and I both noticed a strange lack of dust in the tower. No one disturbed the debris against the doors until we came, and yet the place was otherwise very tidy. Mothers the world over would love to know how that works.
We also found a bedroom on this floor (learned later it was the apprentice’s) and spent quite some time poking around for traps and unlocking a nice magic chest with a key from the bureau…only to find it empty.
The floor at the top of the stairs kept us busy for a minute. There are two doors – one with a magic symbol written on it (Ezekiel got all nerdy and anxious), and a secret one opposite it. When Ezekiel and Mikael dispelled the magic symbol, the room beyond was…absolutely empty. Shakka, Tressarian, and Sirion all said nothing was in there…or had ever been in there. Not even an invisible kidnapped prince. So it was a decoy door all along.
The secret door led to the main bedroom…but here, finally, someone had gotten there before we did. The furniture was all slid to the side once again – but all the drawers and chests were open and empty, and things were tossed about in a way that looked distinctly ransacked. Not entirely sure if the pillagers came through before or after the tower tipped – but if after, it’s guaranteed they didn’t come in the way we did. They came from above.
Sirion spotted the trapdoor, and Ezekiel opened it (and got a face full of ladder that unfolded down to him). Through the trapdoor we found the final room.
It used to be a library, but I doubt there’s a readable volume in the place now. Ezekiel picked through it, but everything is shredded, and tossed about, and eaten up by moss and mold. Here, at last, we found dust – and some leaves that filtered in the gaping hole in the roof – but no rats or even birds’ nests to show little creatures have been using the space. It’s kinda odd, and I doubt Mikael would approve.
Some shards of crystal lay on a velvet cloth in the center of the room, faintly radiating magic…and in the corner, a withered skeleton, mostly buried with fallen stones, also radiated faintly. Not sure if it was him, or his white robes, or the replica of the empty chest lying beside him.
When we saw the body, Ezekiel suddenly grabbed his head, and muttered something about “too much power,” and once Agnar cleared the stones, he touched the corpse and muttered something in his sheep symbol’s ear.
I’ve seen some things in my time. Now I can say I’ve seen skin flow over desiccated bones, and muscles puff out to fill the skin, and facial features (this was the creepiest) somehow gain color and “moisture” and finally the eyes blinked and focused and the man sat up, rubbing his newly-haired head.
He introduced himself as Uthien, scholar, and obviously did not expect his library to appear so neglected. Ezekiel introduced himself and Raven, and asked what date (in what calendar) he last remembered. Turns out he’s been dead over 120 years!
Uthien said his bodyguard should be around here, too, so we trouped down the ladder (greeted by Bearington at the bottom), then down the stairs to the kitchen, then down from there to a floor where water lapped against the stairs and covered part of the rooms. Fortunately, the room Uthien led us to was dry, and Ezekiel went forward, sheep in hand.
As soon as they opened the bedroom door, though, someone started screaming. I thought I knew what it was saying – but then I realized the voice used “justice” much looser than I would…although “help” and “rescue the innocent” kept coming up. I got a glimpse of a corpse with a head injury of some kind – and then Ezekiel disturbed the crime scene by lifting the body (piece by piece) onto the bed. I guess he thought it would be less disorienting for him to come back that way?
A touch of his hand, and within moments the bodyguard’s armor lit up, and he sat up, and picked up the sword that used to be lying beside him and told it to calm down. (Tressarian had some of the same troubles I had in understanding the sword – Mironis – but he says he can relate to its fears of abandonment. I can absolutely see that 120 years is a long time to lie there all alone.)
We returned to Uthien’s bedroom and passed around cheese sandwiches. He and Sir Fredrick seem to be taking the change pretty well – although seeing the work of your life in shambles must be a shock to the system. Ezekiel tried to find some things Uthien would know about to bring him up to speed – and he seemed relieved that the Grand Duchy and Keoland are still here. He used to adventure among the Coldtongue Barbarians, he says, and retired here because it was warm, out of the way, and had the lake to experiment with breeding aquatic animals (and there’s still there, or their descendants, so he can be comforted about that).
Ezekiel tried to explain about Haven (his temple fortress), and said when Lydia rejoins us, she can transport them to somewhere more comfortable so they can get back on their feet. He’s Ezekiel, so he took a long time about it, though, and somehow got talking about the Temple of Elemental Evil along the way, which had better not be involved, I hope (Uthien hadn’t even heard of it, so it wasn’t involved in his death).
The way I see it, they have three options:
- Stay here. Ezekiel can give them rations.
- Come with us. Safety in numbers, and at least their sword talks about protecting the innocent (whatever it means by that).
- Head for either Fort Gellsblood or Deepholm on their own. After the bandits and the fire giants, I wouldn’t recommend a single knight and a spell-less mage head off alone…but it’s their choice.
As for us, we have a mission. And since nothing in the tower took out the knights, it seems the square, black-stone tunnel is our next goal. It is mysterious, though… What took out Uthien and Sir Fredrick? Uthien says he didn’t know of any enemies – but everyone who’s been around has enemies. It seems incredible that they’d still be around…but if they are, they must be scary indeed.
Anyway, I guess they also have a fourth option. Wait for Lydia. Ezekiel says she and Heiron should have gotten back to the fort by now – although he’s not positive anyone there would be able to help them. If not, they can head for Gorna (we wrote down some of this for Heiron), but it’s hard to say how long it would take them. Ezekiel suggests we wait here a day to see if Lydia shows up. Raven seems to agree…we do miss our escape-hatch.
Raven pulled out the paintings we found, to reassure Uthien that some things survived, and then they and Ezekiel started talking about art.
[sketch of a painting – a mage roasting a devil]
Find previous entry here.