Dear Diary…”I am not a demon”

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

I guess we finally got smart. After a couple more giant stone doors that we couldn’t budge, even with the Power of Teamwork, I said, wasn’t it a shame we couldn’t just get bigger. And Lydia dug through her bag until she pulled out a wand and did just that – she made Heiron over twice as tall as Mikael. (Fortunately she made his clothes and muscles match, too.)

At that size, he could open doors all by himself, and he let us into an armory, and a closet-type room full of foul-smelling hay. The prevailing theory is that is where they kept the chimera…I guess even freaks of nature need to sleep and eat somewhere.

I’m pretty excited about the armory – Tressarian and I snooped around in the corner and found a bow that tingles magically. I need to remember to try it out…hopefully it will let me hit things that are resistant to normal weapons. Haven’t met any of those recently, but you can never be too prepared.

Worked our way around until we connected with the passage leading north from the other barricade (we assume, from the patch of darkness floating there that refuses to dispelled by our lights). Seems to be another passage leading west, on our side of the barricade, but the darkness makes it hard to be sure.

**

Well. So we found a room bolted from the outside, and opened it. Inside seemed to be a nicely furnished guest suite of some kind, along with two men and a woman. They looked normal enough, armed with swords at their belts.

Ezekiel questioned them a little, and they said they were mercenaries from the Iron League who came to work for the giants, but the king didn’t trust them and kept them locked in that room. That’s not an unreasonable explanation – I mean, working for (Evil) giants might just come from poor judgement – but given how events played out it shows you can’t trust anyone you just run into.

Ezekiel told them there were still some drow somewhere, and to watch out, but when they were ready to leave they didn’t seem to want to approach the door…and we all noticed that Aliana and Clatrial were standing in the doorway, and most normal people would kill to approach Aliana (and Clatriel has her own qualities, don’t misunderstand).

Anyway, that got our neckhairs up (trying to learn from past experience), so as I tried to sidle close enough for Tressarian to scan them for magic, Aliana slipped Fetafencer out of the sheath about an inch, and he was glowing bright red.

She and Clatriel stared at the strangers for a moment, but couldn’t sense anything, so Ezekiel looked through his gem of seeing (I think he loves it slightly less than Aliana). Don’t know what he saw, but it rattled him for sure and he asked the trio if they were human (like a demon would confess to being one…but Ezekiel is an optimist).

Raven whispered in my ear to switch to the ring of truth (don’t know how he found me, since I was invisible, but maybe it’s to do with his blind-fighting), and joined Ezekiel in asking the strangers if they were demons. He even led the way himself, saying, “I am not a demon,” so then everyone went around the room and said, “I am not a demon.” Maybe the strangers had some kind of resistance, because the ring told me they were telling the truth…but everyone could smell something fishy was up (except maybe Agnar, who was mostly bored, I think).

Well, we had to either attack them, or let them go… Ezekiel moved the rest of us away from the door, with just the paladins standing to each side, and told the strangers they could leave. They said they had to gather their luggage, and began busying themselves with all the chests and furniture in the room.

Ezekiel found me (maybe Raven helped him) and whispered to me to check the trio for magic, and then he would cast Protection from Evil on them, and I could check them again. He told them this spell would protect them from the Drow as they were leaving, so the stranger spokesman sounded agreeable…but he deliberately didn’t touch the holy water as Ez was sprinkling it around. Worst of all, they were already glowing with magic (to Tressarian’s “eyes”) so the only question was, what kind of unnatural thing were they.

Heiron had shrunk down to normal size by now, but he casually positioned himself by Lydia and prepared an arrow on the string. Aliana and Clatrial were both toying with their hilts, and I think even Agnar noticed something was weird.

The stranger trio kept dumping their packed bags onto the floor and picking through the contents, then goibg back to the dressers and chests to sift through more things. Someone had to make a move…so Ezekiel flicked holy water at the nearest stranger.

No one was surprised, so everyone flew into action. The woman, who happened to be the sprinkled one, whirled on Ezekiel…though her sword left strange clawing marks on his exposed skin. Raven rushed in with his daggers, and Mikael waved his hands with the familiar incantation for faery fire…yet nothing seemed to happen to the trio.

Lydia drew a shimmery bubble in the air around herself, and almost immediately one of the men threw a fireball with his bare hands. Tressarian snickered as he sucked up the energy, and then we cut at him. Then the same man threw out a murky cloud that smelled like Lydia’s stinking cloud, but I didn’t see him toss an egg. Fortunately, with my necklace of adaptation, it didn’t make a difference.

Heiron launched several arrows – but they seemed to bounce off the strangers’ bodies. Ezekiel didn’t have that trouble, though…he bashed one of the enemy with his mace, and purple lightening crackled up it as the ram’s eyes glowed briefly. It’s been so long since that happened, it almost threw me off my rhythm.

The last surviving stranger made a run for it, dodging between our blows as he went. He didn’t get far, though, as Agnar and Raven chased him down and tackled him, Ezekiel following behind shouting, “Let me finish him with the mace!”

Once they were dead, their forms changed and we could see they were actually humanoid tigers…very much like the two we passed in the Astral Plain. Ezekiel says they’re “rakshasa,” which are technically fiends, not demons, so that explains that, I guess. Aliana says she’s glad we didn’t let them get away. I guess we all knew there was no other good outcome…it just had to play itself out.

Searching their room, we found a carpet woven with a picture of one of those dark elves, and a footstool that was actually a disguised chest (disguised with magic; actually building a chest to look like a stool would be pretty cool, too). Tressarian and Schakka searched the room for magic and gems, and we found four potions and a cleric scroll, plus a sizable haul of gold and gems, and a scepter decorated with jewels that doesn’t seem to be magical. I wonder who it belonged to originally?

The healers passed around healing, and we’re all happy it wasn’t worse. Shape-shifters can be very dangerous. So far all the ones we’ve met have been both magical and Evil…except the assassins, which as far as we know weren’t magical.

Hopefully just a few more rooms to search up here.


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Dear Diary…knowledge is power…magic items are also power

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

We returned to the giants’ fortress after Mikael made an unnecessarily long speech to his people. Clatrial insisted on coming, since she says she’s Aliana’s bodyguard, and clearly Ezekiel has not done an adequate job of safeguarding her ladyship.

As Sirion and I had noticed before, when we stepped into the hall, the bodies were gone (except for the chimera-three-headed-monster-thing). Ezekiel tells me you don’t usually turn gnolls into zombies, but I like to be prepared for anything.

We did a little looking around in the great hall – pillars of obsidian and red stone support the roof, and the east end holds a throne atop marble steps inlaid with colored stone. It forms pictures of a giant king – we assume King Snuri, whom we killed – conquering things (I didn’t spend too much time looking at them). The wall behind the throne holds a picture of a flaming skull surrounded by fire giants with clubs. Ezekiel wracked his brain for religious symbology that involves a flaming skull, but nothing is for sure yet. It could just be Snuri’s self-image.

The two main corridors out of the hall – to the north and north-west – are blocked by sharpened wood barriers, so we’ll have to do some problem-solving to get over them. Meanwhile, though, Schakka and Ezekiel’s gem of seeing found a secret door behind the throne, and Raven opened it by finding the torch cresset that moves it. Continue reading

“The Ranger of Smylt” – Book Announcement!

New book time! If you’re a fan of this blog, you already know Elwyn the Paranoid Ranger, my character from our AD&D campaign. Well, I’ve written a short story (if 50,000 words is “short”) about a side adventure he has a few years from now (Flanaess-time).

The Ranger of Smylt

Fourteen-year-old Jarin finds a badly wounded man in the woods, and takes him in. Little does heThe Ranger of Smylt - Kimia Wood Author suspect the stranger is a Level 12 Ranger Lord, and his simple act of kindness could be the key to saving his entire village.

If you like fantasy adventures, especially “LitRPG,” you might like this book. If you like the world and lore of the Flanaess (home of Greyhawk), you might like this book. If you like slow-burn stories that build to dramatic climaxes, you might like this book. If you like memorable side characters and stories that make you laugh, you might love this book.

If you like father-son dynamics and stories that honestly portray the differences in how men and women see the world, this book is for you. If you like friendships that grow realistically from little moments, this book is for you. If you like raw battle scenes, and heroic moments – this book is for you!

SmashwordsBarns&NobleKobo

(I’m trying out Smashwords’ feature for letting readers choose their own price, so if you visit their site, you could get it for free…or pay $20, if you decide my work has really enriched your life, and you want to encourage me. Whatever you like. I think this story is really great, and I want as many people to enjoy it as possible.) Continue reading

Dear Diary…a deep breath

It’s amazing what a few days can do. Time, and the cleric types, have us all back to fighting fit, and we’ve had a chance to assess what’s happening with our fortress in our absence.

First off, an entire detachment of men has come to find out about the God of gods, all following some guy calling himself Verachenk Jaln (is he actually after something else? Not sure, but I’m glad Miss Dree knows how to take care of herself). He says he heard about this place, and just convinced more and more men to come with him as he made his way here, all to learn more, and “protect the Arbiter” (meaning Ezekiel).

Also, a couple druids have come to follow Mikael; they say they see some flaws in the whole circle system, and they’re looking for broader ways to serve Obed-Hai.

When Lydia grabbed Sirion to help us out, word must have spread, as Ragni and Agni were also gathered in the fortress library with Usin’s battalion. They brought a big, burly man with a huge beard with them (his name is Keiran). When they introduced me, I thought he was struggling with fierce disappointment over my appearance, but turns out he was just mad that King Snuri almost took off my arm. And he’s not even the one who fumbled the block…

Ragni and Agni took me out south of the lake, where they’ve set up a tree house in a position overseeing the entrance to the valley. The ladder lets down into a palisade, so Madam Whiney and Master Chestnut can be included. Master Chestnut says they’ve developed a routine for patrolling, and all the activity seems to be keeping most wild animals away. (Not all of them, though – they shared some sausage that Keom made from venison they caught.)

The druids have mostly finished their grove in the copse near the road, and now they’re helping Keom and Ronhass plan out some fields and gardens in the rest of the valley (since we keep getting more mouths to feed). Oh, yes, Keom and Ronhass have some more aspiring monks that found us and are eager to learn under Raven. (Ronhass said they tried to hand off some dragon responsibilities, but the dragons get attachment anxiety if he and Keom are gone too long.)

As for Keiran… He says he hates undead – that they get stuck under his nails – and he traveled from Ten, which is mainly Flannish. When he speaks in Flan, I can basically understand what he means…but it’s a bit like when Uncle Yurgen got theological and suddenly he wasn’t using normal words anymore.

He said almost nothing while I was telling the story of the giants, and while Ragni was telling his follow-up story of when Madam Moonwhisper and Master Guil of the Glen first showed up (that’s the two new druids). He doesn’t look discontented…but it’s kinda hard to tell. Sirion seems at ease with him, though, and Sirion’s come through for us enough times that should count for something.

Part of me just wonders what Ehlonna is preparing us for, bringing all these extra hands to us…

**

Ezekiel told us a long, involved story about how he and Aliana took Agnar to investigate a cave hidden behind a door in their bedroom. They found some kind of creature, but Ezekiel got bogged down trying to describe it. Aliana called it a “shadow creature.” Apparently it can change its appearance, but it always looks like a shadow of something else. Ezekiel is going to put a ward on the door, as we don’t know if it’s friendly or not (but Ezekiel, who is friendly, wants it to stick around or at least come visit again).

He also said there’s “holy water” dripping off one of the stalactites in that cave – it’s shimmery, milky white, and if you drink it, it heals you. I’m not sure I want to know how they found that out. He and Aliana investigated it more thoroughly after the “ceremony” – but they haven’t had time to tell us the whole story…Ezekiel is too giddy.

He did officially induct Master Jaln and Sister Lysa with a ceremony in the chapel (and with Raven and Aliana’s help). He told me I had to come and wear something nice. I’m always wearing something nice. Sirion said it felt very Heironian, which is only natural.

****

I tried to scry the giants’ fortress to keep an eye on what the survivors are up to. The first night, someone had started laying out the bodies, as though preparing them for funeral/burial. By the next morning, all the lights were put out along the walls. I asked Sirion if he knew how to use the crystal ball, and he said he would try. He didn’t see the fortress for very long, but he said he found it, and they’ve started to move the bodies out (starting with the king and his men). He thought one of the hallways had a barricade of spiked wood, also.

It’s probably just as well Dame Clatrial insists she’s coming when we go back. She lectured Ezekiel that he was not taking proper care of Lady Aliana, and she needs her bodyguard with her from now on. Clatrial is a paladin, so I don’t mind.

**

Ezekiel called me and Mikael in to have dinner with the others in Haven’s great hall, so he could tell us all his big story. Yesterday he and Aliana followed the trickle of healing water up through cracks in the mountain until they reached the peak, and discovered the source – a Gold Dragon (one of the Good ones) lying in a cleft of the mountaintop. Ezekiel says he is old beyond belief (just his mouth is bigger than Mikael’s pirate ship) and is sitting there, waiting to die…but he’s been waiting there for lifetimes on lifetimes.

So Ezekiel did some nerdy gushing, and the dragon was tolerant and said he chose this spot to die because “his king’s King” would be founding a fortress here some day. Naturally Ezekiel has been over the moon ever since, and even Aliana looks like this isn’t something she’s seen before. Sirion looked thoughtful.

Anyway, they stayed up on the mountain until this morning when Ezekiel had another windwalk spell (that explains why he wasn’t around when I wanted to tell him about the giants’ barricades. Lydia said he and Aliana were working on a “project” in their bedroom, so we left it at that).

I did get her to mirror me and Agni to Mitrik so I could buy more healing potions. They sure come in handy when the clerics are busy…more handy than gold and gems, at that moment. Agni said he’s never been to Mitrik before and wanted to sketch some of the cathedrals, but we had to get to the meeting place for Lydia to pick us up.

Ezekiel has some people wanting to be healed of diseases, and then he says we’re returning to the giant fortress tomorrow. About time…we’ve given the surviving giants plenty of time to heal up and organize their defenses, and Aliana says she thinks some drow got away, too. And they can be even more dangerous than giants in some ways.

Anyway, I can just about land an arrow in the pass at the entrance to the valley from the rampart of the tree house, but Leomas says I should really warn the druids if I’m going to be doing that kind of thing, but I’m really not sure the arrows had that much power anyway, especially when her limp and the way she was holding her side were so obviously fake (although she kinda took Agni in, for a minute).


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Dear Diary…fighting fire with friends

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

Sirion says I shouldn’t stress my arm too much until the clerics have a chance to fix it. It already feels much better, and I can more or less move it, but he’s right if it somehow counts as “disattached” their ordinary healing spells won’t fix that. Like when Mikael lost his arm. I think it’s just the ligaments, but I can take it easy for tonight. It’s not my writing arm, anyway.

Ugh it feels like it can’t have been only this morning that we were sitting in a cave, planning our assault on the Fire Giant fortress. And yet that’s how much stuff can be packed into a short amount of time, when you’re in this line of work.

We started with some standard protection procedures…passing around fire protection, summoning the earth elementals, that kind of thing. Ezekiel did some kind of ritual over Heiron and Raven. I made sure the cloth cover over my shield was in place, to give my invisibility all the help I could. The others say they notice when I hit something – the light distorts and I come into focus, or some scientific confusion that – but at least it still gives me an edge. I think. I’m feeling confused right now.

Then – onwards to the assault: through the iron door in the hillside, which whether it was a back door or not was the only entrance we knew of. It could have been an emergency escape hatch for all I know – I think they knew where we were coming from. Continue reading

Dear Diary…Ezekiel recruits the rest of the fortress

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

Everything started happening at once again. We started this morning with Ezekiel having a private talk with Aliana and Raven (something religious) while Mikael prepared to melt the boulder blocking the door, and I put on the sword of Lyons.

That tunnel system definitely felt like a main fortress. Outside the dragon room, the hallway opened up to either side, with bas-relief carvings on the walls of giants in battle or hunting. Baskets hung at intervals holding some kind of glowing beetles that gave distinction to the surroundings. I didn’t get to study them at length, though. Passages trailed away to our left and right, but we decided the boulder directly ahead looked like it was blocking something, so we started there. I think Ezekiel was worried that we’d taken too long clearing the guard posts up above, and that Jarl Grugnir might have prepared something especially nasty for us, or fled like Marquessa (I hear Heironians talk battle strategy over breakfast). Continue reading

Dear Diary…Lydia’s revenge

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

We keep finding strange things. We found and defeated a squad of ice toads loving in a cave…that could well be just part of the environment, meaning they have nothing to do with the giants…which means they probably aren’t technically a “squad,” but that makes me feel better than calling them a “family.” Their floor was coated with gnawed on bones, and they had a lump of amethyst sitting on a broken-off stalagmite that looked vaguely like a toad. (The stalagmite did not try to eat us.) Doesn’t look like there was anything of real importance in that cave, although Ezekiel said that toads totally have a god that they worship, which is sending me into difficulties. Lydia said that doesn’t really have anything to do with anything right now, but Heiron said it’s important to think about what you’re dealing with (even if you can’t understand it).

**

The toad cave led out onto the ledge that’s been circling this central ravine, and we got another look at the snow dome or something that’s down in the bottom. I can’t see an entrance from this side. Lydia says it makes her uncomfortable.

Ezekiel put a booby-trap glyph on another pile of prepped boulders, and we found the last cave system on the upper level of the ravine. This must be where the rest of the giants lived, as we found more sleeping hides, barrels of food, and a little gold hidden in the snow (plus a clerical scroll that might come in handy).

Hard to say if they were waiting for us to be distracted by the goods, or if they were out looking for us, and just returned at that moment, but the last frost giant sentries sicced their winter wolves on us, and put up a good fight. Lydia got to use stinking cloud again, like the old days…but this time, I didn’t gag on it.

Two of them fled at the last moment, and Ezekiel and Mikael pursued them while the rest of us were busy. Their legs are shorter than giants’, though, (even Mikael) and they lost them. Then the walls started shaking, and little ice fragments fell down from the ceiling.

Ezekiel told us to quickly grab anything the giants had (though they didn’t have anything on them – I guess it was all in this cave) and follow him before they collapsed the cave down on us. By the time we caught up with him and Mikael, they were considering a pile of ice debris where the giants had blocked us in (yet again; if I didn’t have claustrophobia before, I probably will now). The good news is the giants gave up trying to collapse the roof, so all we have to deal with is clearing the entrance.

Ezekiel proposed using his magical spinning blades to dice the barrier into fragments that can compact onto the floor and walls (and maybe the friction melts them a little, too)…so we’re trying that. It is kinda cool watching his disembodied blades whip back and forth, but there’s a serious amount of snow and ice to get through. He’s been at it nearly a half hour. I guess it’s good he’s having fun.

**

Oof. Five days of boredom, five minutes of terror…that’s the adventurer’s life.

We finished digging ourselves out of the giants’ cave, and found them not waiting in an ambush for us. Maybe they’re off getting friends or something. At any rate, the only thing left to explore was the floor of the ravine and the snow-covered dome, so we lowered ourselves down on ropes.

At first, all was quiet. There’s a hole in the southern end, surrounded by cliffs, that drops into a cave system underneath (made of actual rocks, this time). Not too far from that, though, is the huge dome of snow.

The snow must accumulate here after whipping back and forth up above trying to waylay arrows, and it’s a little hard to walk in. We were heading to explore the dome, and the girls were talking about a smell in the air. Lydia had caught a whiff earlier – like baking, she said – while Aliana said there was something spicy or cinnamony in the air. But before anyone else had a chance to sniff around, the Thing came for us.

Basically, it’s like an ankheg, but white…but of course you don’t look at an ankheg that’s rushing you, and say, “You’re just a big earthworm with horns!” No, you duck out of its way and try to decide in a split-second which part looks most vulnerable to the weapon you happen to be holding (I chose the underbelly – frequently vulnerable to blades). Ezekiel tried to throw light in its face, and then Lydia hurled lightening down the length of its body, and it jack-knifed and flopped to the snowy ground, shriveling like an earthworm in the sun.

Afterwards, Lydia told us that it’s called a “polar worm,” and the carapace on its back will melt weapons (Tressarian said, but he puts out fires! but I explained it doesn’t melt like that). It also likes to eat people and digest them in minutes, and the Barbarian word “rimorez” is what people called Lydia’s mother. She cut off one of its horns, and she wasn’t explaining things with the gusto she usually has about sharing knowledge, so I told Heiron to give her back-up while I went with Ezekiel to search the dome.

I think the worm has been hunting here for some time. Apparently it doesn’t digest bones, since we found plenty of those…human, dwarf, and goblinoid. Also a magic ring (silver with some engraving) and a sword we saw glowing under the ice. Mikael had to cut it out with a flame-blade, but when we freed it, the hilt had Old Oeridian writing that Ezekiel says means “for the slaying of giants.” Agnar thought that could be useful, but when he tried to pick it up, he says it “bit” him, so we gave it to Master Oaklock. I hope they will be happy together. (Ezekiel told Agnar that some weapons need to have a “kinship” with their wielders to work best, but I’m not sure how much he got out of it.) Tressarian went so far as to admit it would be nice to have a sort of “kindred spirit” sword with us – once he was sure I wasn’t going to swap him out.

There wasn’t much else in the ravine…which meant all we could do was attach ropes and climb down into the cavern underneath our feet. (I suppose the frost giants had another route to get down there, but we didn’t know where it was…and possibly we wouldn’t be able to climb it.)

Aliana was to go first, and Agnar was ready to climb down once she was clear of the rope. But plans are for boring people, I guess.

She couldn’t have been more than halfway down when we heard a roar, and saw a flash of something white down there (the hole is twelve feet across, so big enough to see a little) – and then we heard her trumpet-like challenge, and the rope went slack. Dragon versus paladin. No holds barred.

Agnar waited for nothing and no one – he leapt feet-first, sword-drawn, into the opening, yelling the whole way (it’s a wonder he had any breath left by the time he landed). He’d barely left the ledge when Ezekiel pounced on the rope, skimming down with his gauntlets of ogre strength, and Mikael just dove into the hole (transforming into a falcon by the time he disappeared below the level of the ground).

Raven took the rope next, while Lydia hopped into the hole and used her staff to lower herself at a gentle rate. In all the commotion, I kind of lost track of myself…I saw flashes of light, and felt blasts of freezing air as I climbed down the rope – but by the time I reached the floor of the cavern, we had two dead white dragons, and Ezekiel was on his knees “having a moment,” as Aunt Elaine might have said. Mikael was chanting away Aliana’s frostburn, and Agnar was grudgingly admitting that maybe his ankles didn’t appreciate falling over a hundred feet onto stone (I just pictured Tomlin’s reaction to hearing that sentence! Ha!).

Everything seemed wrapped up… These dragons were clearly stronger than the ones we fought in the Node with Master Elmo, but they still were no match for our teamwork (and Ezekiel’s spell, apparently, that’s he’s been muttering to himself about and whimpering, “What have I done?” sorts of things periodically).

We only found one obvious exit (aside from the roof, of course) – blocked with a giant boulder, just like Flame’s bedroom was. So we set up the instant fortress in front of it for Heiron and Master Oaklock to guard, and for Agnar to take a little rest, while Ezekiel and I gathered the dragons’ treasure into the portable hole.

Silver, electrum, and platinum pieces…silver boxes filled with ivory…various little non-magical carvings out of marble and alabaster…a pile of white gems…yes, these dragons liked getting treasure that matched their hides. Even among the weapons and armor (no surprise that dragons had some of those, right?) we found a suit of black chainmail painted silver. It’s magical, but we haven’t experimented to see how good it is. Ezekiel checked the corners of the nest for any eggs, but found none. I think that’s just as well – poor Keom and Ronhass have their hands plenty full.

Lydia has gone to Haven to drop off the treasure, and Master Oaklock asked her to take the new frostbrand sword and get it a sheath made. (Tressarian took the opportunity to mention he likes his special sheath that lets him glow and talk from inside it, so I’m glad. We don’t know if the new sword talks, though.)

Aliana suggested one of the statues might be a good wedding present for Prince Thrommel and the Lady Jolene. It does seem to be of a married couple, though I’m not sure it would be the kind of thing my mother had in her house. On the other hand, part of being nobility is just having a lot of treasures to hand out at necessary times…it’s the thought that counts more than the actual gift. They don’t have to like the item for itself. I feel like I once heard Archie explaining that to Alpheus, and Alpheus felt a gift should have more thought put into it, even if he acknowledged that a lord couldn’t put that much thought into every single thing he had to do. Which I suppose is why he needs an “Archie” person.

Ezekiel in deep meditation, and looking broody, which is not like him.


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Dear Diary…still cold; also ogres are the worst

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

Lydia returned this morning and we ventured out of the fortress to find what the giants had been doing all night. The cavern has multiple connected rooms and multiple exit passages – but every time we tried to reach the outside, we found a pile of ice fragments, stacked above our heads and pressed together into a solid wall. The only exit we couldn’t confirm was blocked is the passage Mikael had filled with thorny brambles. We had a little discussion about removing the brambles, but Ezekiel and Lydia were both anxious not to start a massive fire inside an ice cavern.

The only passage not completely filled had a gap at the top of the barrier, just a few feet below the roof, where someone could crawl toward the outside on his knees. “Someone” being me, apparently, because I could be invisible with the sword. How do I get volunteered for these things?

Raven gave me a hand up, and I crawled across the top of the barrier. Sure enough, the ice is jammed into a solid piece, reaching across the entire entrance of the cavern. Outside, on the cliff above the ravine, five frost giants stood or lounged, waiting…for us.

I crawled back and gave the report. Ezekiel seemed to think I could take them all down by myself…I don’t think he understands about recovering your stance after a sword-thrust, and the time involved making a new swing. Sure, it’s only a couple seconds – but it does take time. I could get off more arrows in the same amount of time, but even if I could have drawn my bow crouching on that ice barrier, the wind is still whipping like a horse’s mane at full gallop, and I doubt I could land a single shot. Quite apart from the fact that frost giants are not orcs or hobgoblins…they have a lot of blood. Like, a lot of blood. Even striking their vital arteries only kills them so quickly, and I didn’t relish the idea of being the prime target of five of them all by myself (until Aliana, Agnar, and the others crawled out of the cave under the cover of my distraction). Well, anyway, I guess it’s nice to be considered competent, rather than “the little one” who needs help with everything and is a handy size to chuck places.

Back to the giants… I couldn’t really think of an alternate plan, so Raven gave me a hand again, and I concentrated on silencing my footfalls. Master Elmo and Lord Otis were right…if you practice enough, you can exert your will on the very physical world enough to mask even the condensation of your breathing. However, not enough to mask Tressarian’s glowing in freezing temperatures.

He was lowering me to the ground on the far side of the barrier – so I wouldn’t have a rope to give me away, and so I didn’t slip and fall face-first onto the cliff as might happen to certain unlucky individuals – but of course the giants had a guard watching the outlet for when we would come out, and they noticed Tressarian’s (undeniably cool) light aura. So the first one made a swipe at me, but fortunately whiffed it pretty badly.

Agnar heard the giant’s battle roar, and made it across the top of the barrier much faster than I had expected (is he shorter than I think of him?). Moments after he landed, Aliana launched straight from the top of the barrier into a giant, rebounding off him to land on her feet as he tumbled backward off the cliff. Tressarian hummed happily as we sliced into one of the others (not as good as evil fire things, but he still had fun).

Agnar was having a little too much fun, I think. He made such a vigorous attack that his sword flew out of his hand – and as he dove after it, they both slid off the cliff and into the mounds of snow below. So he missed out as Aliana, Heiron, and I mopped up the cliff-top, but he says he made sure the giant down there was dead. Also, the deep snow apparently cushioned his fall, so he seemed barely affected by having fallen off the cliff.

The giants had only weapons and clothes on them (makes sense – we were camped in their house) but we don’t know if they alerted the rest of the garrison yet. Agnar rejoined us via a path that winds down alongside the ridge, so we can safely explore the bottom of the ravine at some later time. But first we want to clear some of these other caves.

****

Oh, yes, there was something weird in one of the caves. First, we came upon some kind of symbol scratched on the ice of the floor. While Ezekiel and Lydia were wracking their brains for any rune or glyph it might resemble, Agnar said it looked like scribbling. Lydia finally cast a spell to read it, and said it just said, “Danger keep out.” It wasn’t even magical.

So for our next step, Ezekiel took Aliana with him into gaseous form and floated around the corner to scout. The walls and floor seemed covered with ivory and bones, seemingly just dropped at random. Ezekiel thought there were scratches like chewing on them, but Aliana thought that wasn’t quite the way she would describe it. Also, the passage got colder and colder as they went along, until Ezekiel says he almost felt frostbite through his heavy mountaineering gloves. There were no traps, and no concealed things, anywhere in the cave…except maybe a mysterious dark residue on the ground.

Finally, they returned to us, and after reporting their findings (while rubbing their hands together), Mikael said it reminded him of a breed of mold. The “brown mold” (I like names that get right to the point) doesn’t eat plant and animal flesh like a normal slime. Instead, it sucks energy from its surroundings – he said even bringing a torch into its room can make it grow. Lydia said, good thing then we didn’t walk in there with all our lit up shields. She did wonder if a cone of cold would hurt it, but not enough to feel like fighting it. Especially since it’s not working with the giants, we don’t really have a quarrel with it. Mikael didn’t have a sure-fire method for killing it, either, so we left it alone. And things got plenty exciting anyway.

First, we found an empty guard post with a couple sleep sacks and a pile of prepared boulders. Hard to tell if the guards were ones we fought, or if they left their post to warn some others. We didn’t have time to deal with the boulders, so we continued on.

Next, a squad of fire giants was camped near some kind of volcanic vent in a cave. Tressarian says it’s starting to make up for…whatever reason he’s feeling neglected this time.

They were a bit more civilized than the rest, with a brazier, table and chairs, and some coins and loot (including a silver statue of a bear with jewels; nothing magical, though). I was busy worrying that fire giants are working with frost giants…usually, they can’t stand each other. What kind of leader do they have, and what kind of tricks is he pulling to keep them all in line?

There must have been survivors of the earlier battle who prepared for us to escape the trap. Someone dug a pit and covered it with snow within the past day or so, and if it weren’t for Aliana’s sharp eyes, we’d be a lot wetter and colder than we already are (Raven made a rope bridge for us to cross by, but the pit wasn’t that deep when I fell into it. Just almost twisted my ankle and got snow in my boot).

Not far beyond that, we came to a fork in the path. Both choices were packed down ice, but I found more recent traces of giant footprints going more straight. We were hot on their tails, now, so we weren’t surprised when they tried to snipe us with boulders. It was a couple squads of frost giants, this time, but they were no match for our numbers.

These ones actually had bags of treasure with them, and gold armbands inset with an ivory and amber bear. I think it must be some kind of loyalty or membership badge. Aliana said she was not aware of the significance of a bear in frost giant culture.

Their cave led into a series of connected caves (thankfully out of the worst of the wind, now) where we discovered a company of ogres. I’m not sure why they didn’t rush to support the frost giants when they heard that battle…although they tried to get the jump on us by hiding under hides, our numbers and party composition is to our advantage. They might have had a better chance with the giants – but then again, maybe not. Mikael proved, once again, that druids are completely horrifying. While those of us with sharp metal weapons were doing our part, he conjured a wall of thorns over the top of a pack of ogres, and we heard their dying croaks through the tangle. Then, when we had checked the dead bodies in the open for gems or secret papers, and were ready to move through the next part of the cave, he pushed with his hand, and magically shoved the thicket against the wall. It embedded in the ice, dripping softly. As for the bodies of the ogres, they were diced in what Raven might call a “slushie” on the floor. I haven’t been hungry for three hours (although some of that might come from searching the ogres’ chests and barrels).

We found some jewelry and gems (plus two potions that look like they’re for inducing vomiting), but to find them we had to wade through a barrel of skulls and a couple chests of ears and teeth…all shapes and races. I know we sometimes hang dragon skins on our walls, but you gotta draw the line somewhere. Ogres and their kind are just the worst.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…a chilly reception

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

16 Reaping

When Uncle Bern (or a traveling bard) used to tell us stories, Bartholomew always used to interrupt during interesting parts to ask stupid questions like, “Wait, who’s that speaking?” or “Why would he do that?” or “But what did they find?”

And Uncle Bern would have to say, “I’ll tell you,” and pick up just where he left off, and where the story would have explained itself if Bartholomew had only kept quiet for three seconds and listened. (Or, if he’d thought about it for half a moment instead of instantly giving up and asking, the story would have been obvious.)

Wonder why I thought of that while Ezekiel was giving the report to Sir Lashton. Anyway, if we have a traitor on our side, my money is on Sir Lashton. King’s agent or not, no one in such a high position could really be that dense and self-important. His first assignment of real importance would have revealed his incompetence and made him fall apart. Sir Lashton says he’s busy investigating the black dome, which means he has to delegate other things. So then why does he have such trouble actually delegating, and trusting people to accomplish things? Double agent.

Father always used to say, “You must respect a man for his position, not necessarily for his competence.” Especially right after receiving a message from Lord Torvald, he used to say that a lot.

All of that is really beside the point, I suppose. We gave the report, and left records in case we all die horribly and someone else needs to follow through on our mission. Ezekiel wrote up a report to leave with Dree, and I sent notes to Sirion and the others. Also, since the destination seems to be in the mountains, Ezekiel suggested we find where we put all the rings of warmth we have, and distribute them. We found two, which went to Mikael and Heiron. Someone thought we had a third one, but I’m not sure. If so, it’s probably buried in the vault with our racks of potions that we never use, either.

Oh, yes. Ezekiel also managed to get a few words with Master Algorthas. (Remembering that he asked him to investigate the “E” who keeps writing letters.) Master Algorthas says the wax used for the seal on one of the letters (I think the one that Klim had on him) is actually made from some kind of fungus. That would fit in with the Underdark…first, they can’t have regular bees down there, and also, they like fungus (or am I blurring them together with the Mushroom Queen’s people?). Ezekiel shared what he learned from the dead drow spy, so maybe that will help his investigations, too.

I think Lydia is glad we’re spending the night in actual beds, with a real roof over our heads. She’s been walking funny lately, and moving more slowly that usual. Heiron told me he’s a bit worried. But when Ezekiel tried to suggest she could back us up through the mirror like she used to with the Nodes, she gave him a “look.”

****

Mixed feelings.

The chain teleported us to a mountainside…high up, wind-whipped, covered with snow. Like Ezekiel described it, but even more so. I admit, it was a bit of a shock going from high summer to snow…but we managed. (Heiron gave Lydia his ring – of warmth…)

Well, a quick scout around didn’t tell us much. Giant footprints were everywhere, but didn’t give us much clue about where to go, and seeing into the distance was not an option. The wind comes whistling down and twists around the rocks so strangely that archery is impossible. The first time Heiron tried launching an arrow, it just disappeared into the whiteness in a completely wrong direction. I can’t explain how powerless that made me feel.

On the positives, though, Tressarian got to spend more time out and about – and it was cold, so he glowed with a pale white light. I was wearing the sword of Lyons at my belt, too, so we looked extra cool…just a blade of light, floating around in the air. Not so sneaky, but cool.

Anyway, we picked a direction, and followed what seemed to be a path down the mountainside, and eventually (after several hours) came to a ravine with paths along the tops of the cliffs all around it. The cliffside is also riddled with caves, and as we started to explore the first one, we came upon a squad of yetis, with a pair of snow leopards in a neighboring cave. I’m not sure what they ate up here – but the yetis had a pair of ivory tusks hidden under the snow in their cave, so maybe they eat mammoths. They also had a frostbrand sword, though, glowing in a corner, and we gave it to Oaklock…so that’s a happy turn of events for both of them (he says the sword hasn’t tried to talk to him).

Not too far from there, we found a pile of prepared boulders overlooking the rift below. While Mikael prepared to melt it into mud, Heiron and Master Oaklock heard noises ahead to the south, and Raven and I heard something coming from a cave to the north. The giants had heard our approach (no surprise there) and a squad tried to encircle us. Raven and I held them off pretty well – then just as reinforcements were coming up, Lydia threw a lightening bolt through their midst. Suddenly, Ezekiel had turned around and conjured a row of floating blades slicing and dicing just higher than our heads.

It wasn’t all one-sided, of course. The giants had plenty of boulders to choose from – whether stone or ice, I couldn’t tell…you don’t get a good look when something rams into you trying to break all your limbs. They must have dealt with the detachment to the south, as Ezekiel and Mikael came up behind to dish out healing. Ezekiel was saying something, too, but I didn’t quite hear him clearly – boulders still flew at us from deeper in the cave, so while Oaklock and Heiron took one branch, I followed Aliana down another to find the enemy.

The caves back there twist and connect with each other in a way that’s not immediately straightforward. Mikael stayed in the back long enough to notice a side passage, and he filled it with a massive jungle of thorns to keep the giants from escaping (and to control the battlefield).

Aliana had a small group of giants on one side, while Agnar and I had another group on the other side of the cave. Next thing you know, there’s a faintly white wall between us and them, encircling them. Apparently that was Raven’s doing, from his ring. When we went to help Aliana, she had a similar just-visible wall of light above her head – pinning one of the giants around his waist, so that all he could do was kick at her. His two companions must have seen Lydia waving her hands, and crouched down…but that put them at a disadvantage, of course, and the battle didn’t take too long after that.

Aliana and Agnar went back to Raven’s prisoners, and I helped Heiron explore the rest of this cave system. There’s a barracks full of sleeping hides, with a club and spear for each giant, and a larder full of meat…some of it looks disturbingly human-shaped, but I tried not to examine it closely.

When we got back to the others, the last giants were dead. I gather we didn’t do very well getting information out of them. Mikael, Ezekiel, and Aliana passed around healing, while we counted up the dead bodies.

Lydia went back to Haven to open up the portal, so Ezekiel and Raven could get some supplies…winter clothes, and what Ezekiel calls “mountaineering gear.” The rest of us set up the fortress in the back of the cave for a little shelter; on the plus side, there’s a freshwater spring right here, so that cheered up Mikael and me.

Aliana says a couple giants probably escaped, or weren’t here for the battle. There’s not much we can do until tomorrow, though, so we’ll have to take our chances and be vigilant.

****

Rumblings and clatterings in the cave last night. Nothing close enough to see, though, so we just sat tight and waited for the others to return. Thankfully the cavern has not collapsed on us.

Ezekiel and Raven returned with news – Ez got a letter from his sister (Leah), and a wedding invitation arrived from Prince Thrommel and the Lady Jolene. Very kind of them to think of us – and high time they made it official! Ezekiel says the wedding isn’t for a couple months yet, so we could have time to clear out these giants, hopefully. (And Lydia can take us all to Mitrik because she knows the city pretty well by now.)


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…fast travel, please

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

Ezekiel interrogated the drow’s head this morning. He says he was right – the drow was a spy against the giants, who then got trapped in the basement. The copper staff is the symbol of House Alservs, who are trying to break away from the Spider Queen in the Underdark. I guess the drow we found had one as part of his cover. Apparently he was very dismissive of the giants, and said they were just working for the Alservs, who are trying to uncover places of power. Places like the shrine – which makes Ezekiel believe the Alservs are following the Elder Elemental Gods (combined with the double triangle we keep finding). Finally, Ez asked about Eclavdra – and as far as our informant knew, she (he?) is part of House Alserv.

That’s the straightforward version, that Ezekiel pieced together from his notes (none of the rest of us could hear the drow’s spirit talking). It’s starting to make a bit more sense (although I’m still not convinced there’s not just one drow using multiple “E” names to play all sides against the middle. Eclavdra, Edralv… My parents came up with eleven unique names; how hard can it be for drow?). Anyway, Ezekiel says the chief here got orders by note, and we still haven’t found a bundle of notes, so Lydia suggested we keep looking.

So we spent the whole rest of today combing the above-ground part of the fortress, from the kitchen, to the feasting hall, to the armory, to the chief’s room, to my lady’s chamber, and all around back again. Ezekiel kept the gem of seeing to his eye nearly the whole time, and Mikael kept Schakka out, searching for secret doors, but no luck so far. We’re all kinda tired and discouraged, but at least we can be pretty confident we’re the only ones here (aside from the crowds in the under-basement) and Raven has cooked us a gourmet dinner to make up for it (I didn’t see how careful he was about where his meat came from…given where we are, I’m nervous).

****

Ezekiel prepared a spell today that let him summon a semi-transparent floaty spirit thing to serve him. He told it to find any messages to or from this place that we haven’t found yet. So off it went.

After an hour or two, Aliana gave him a look, and Ezekiel admitted that he hadn’t told the spirit to report back afterwards. Apparently the spirit he summoned wasn’t an over-achiever type.

So he’ll have to try again tomorrow. When he told everyone we could have the day off, Heiron sat on the floor to rub Lydia’s feet, which Agnar somehow finds very funny. Aliana and Raven asked him to go spar with them in the yard, I think to keep him out of trouble.

****

8 Reaping

This time, Ezekiel told the spirit to find any messages, and return, and lead him to where they were. So at length we ended up at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the manticor room – but at the back corner of the hallway, before you get to the room, facing a blank wall. Apparently the spirit can’t open doors for us, but it did everything we asked of it.

Raven found the secret door, and then Ezekiel found the false floor that drops into a pit – but kept himself from falling into the pit. After Raven jammed the floor shut, we could finally investigate the final room.

It’s got three broken boxes and a barrel, plus a yellow mold in the corner – but Ez’s gem told us the mold was an illusion. We found a quiver of magic arrows (don’t mind if I do), two magic swords, and a spear – all human-sized, so clearly loot rather than armory (for the giants). Also a map of the surrounding mountains, reaching all the way to something in the Crystalmysts, marked with an X.

Finally, we found an obsidian box containing a looped chain of black metal, and a parchment made of some skin that makes my neck-hairs stand up (Lydia handled it delicately, almost reverently, which is a big thing for her). According to the parchment, the chain will transport up to twelve people to Jarl Grugnir’s fortress, when it’s arranged on the ground in a certain way, and someone holding the map steps into the circle of the chain. Needless to say, this sounds way easier than hiking through the mountains, trying to find the spot marked on the map and hoping it really is the place we want.

All that remains to make sure the chain is in a secure place when we use it – in case it doesn’t come with us, we want it to be with allies – and to leave a report with the authorities (and to tell Mr. Trash-bags about all the giant bodies going to waste up here. Raven feels that’s important). We can’t get the horses into the chain – and Donna even less so – which is yet another reason to ride back to Istivin. I can try to make official directions for how to get here, with a map of the different giant outposts, so that if Sterich’s forces ever feel strong enough, they can take and hold this place against further incursions. That’s less of a concern after some of the things we’ve learned recently, but they should still have the option.

**

Raven says Donna says she’s hungry. I can only imagine what they’re going to do with her at Algorthas’ house.


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