Dear Diary…you meet such interesting people in dungeons

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

Ezekiel went with Aliana and Princess Shallaria to Gorna, since he wants a professional’s opinion on all our potions we’ve amassed over the years, and I suppose it’s true we’re rich enough to afford that. He hopes someone can recommend a professional in Gorna.

Miss Dree had some exciting news to share with us. She says she and Miss Lysa and the super-energetic guy whose name I forget have been casting Cure Minor Wounds this morning. She says she felt “a stirring in her spirit” yesterday, and after her prayer time this morning (where she always asks for spells, since Father Ezekiel says just because you don’t receive is no reason to not ask) she tried the chant on Miss Lysa’s scraped knuckles, and the power was granted. I have never seen Miss Lysa so excited and forget herself so much that she explained the whole story to us again herself.

(Ragni and Agni have set up a sort of little catapult in the tree house, and have been chucking over-ripe fruit at the druid grove. Madam Moonwhisper assured me they grew some protective boughs and no one could actually be hit, but Leomas said she’s been knocked unconcious multiple times and showed me a broken pumpkin to prove it. I said the pumpkin must be what she used to think with, since it was too big to fit in the catapult, and she was half transformed into a panther when Madam Moonwhisper said Leomas was the one who told her about the ring of truth, and she should have known she couldn’t pull my leg (makes sense that’s why I actually said that out loud…). I asked Ragni and Agni to take it easy on the druids, and besides it’s the pass that enters the valley that we need to defend, and Ragni got very red and said Sirion and Usin made strict rules about firing at the pass after some pilgrims came to be healed of a disease and also needed baths once they got to the fortress. I’m so glad I warned Sirion about the Frost Giants that will be moving in nearby…I can just picture the entire mountain sliding down into the valley, with a sound of soft explosions, strewing rotten apples in its wake… Ezekiel would probably tell me that’s beyond Ragni and Agni’s capabilites, but I’m really not sure.)

Anyway, when Ez and Aliana get back, we leave for the giant fortress. Might not exactly be an early start, but we’re making the effort.

**

We started big, by investgating the wall opposite the illusion that led to the temple. Ezekiel hadn’t seen anything specific while looking at it through the gem; it just made his skin crawl, he said.

We started off by just looking at it…it seemed made of brownish purpleish stone, which really gives the impression of fungus – but not any normal kind of fungus. I wanted to poke it with an arrow, to see if the surface was really solid, but I was invisible…so I asked Heiron to do it, so we could actually see the results.

The wall reacted by spitting out a purpley tentacle, grapping Heiron’s wrist, and trying to pull him toward a gross, clicking, beak-like mouth. No one touches our Heiron – we all sprang into action. But it was the weirdest, grossest thing we’ve seen in a long time. Even Aliana’s sword seemed to bounce off it, like the wall was a giant rubber sheet. I pelted it with arrows, but again, they seemed to not so much as tickle it.

Agnar managed to do something to it…and it lashed him with a couple more tentacles. I think there were ten or twelve flailing about, with unnerving movement patterns. A couple of them grabbed Oaklock and smashed him against the floor, but Ezekiel pulled him away.

Nothing seemed to bother it much (although Tressarian worked better than my bow – maybe it was something to do with magic weapons) until Lydia muttered something and threw out her hand…and the whole thing collapsed and faded. Agnar says in all his uncle’s stories of the underdark, he never heard of anything like this. Lydia thinks it was partly enchantment, since Dispell Magic is what killed it, but she admits it was a shot in the dark, since she’s never seen something like it before.

Once it was dead, we saw the wall was actually a “curtain” of sorts, concealing a suite behind. Maybe those Evil rings the drow had would have let them pass it, like the statues and the violet fungus in the Temple of Elemental Evil, but I for one am not interested in experimenting…even if we hadn’t already killed it.

The cleric types passed around healing, since those tentacles were deceptively strong, and I think they even had hooks or suckers on them that left little welts, so the front-line fighters were pretty hard-up. When we felt up to it, we moved in to the suite, checking for enemies and traps as we went (meaning, Raven checked for traps).

There’s a two-room suite, with a sitting room full of black candles (unlit), ebony couches inlaid with silver, jasper basins, black carpet and purple wall hangings – yes, when they pick a design theme, they commit.

Behind a tapestry is a bedroom…strangely, the candles there were lit – again burning with that eery purple fire – but everything else looked abandoned. We found some pouches still full of money and gems, and even a couple cleric scrolls (one of them locked in a trapped coffer). The bedroom also has a large silver mirror, a dressing screen, a cabinet, bed, and side table – all the furniture made out of ebony or black stone. Also some tapestries, but by the time I got to the bedroom Aliana had sliced and shredded them into fine strips.

Ezekiel is probably right that some of the drow are still alive, but if so then they haven’t ransacked this suite. They even left the priest-garments in the wardrobe (Ez pointed out that these were embroidered with gold and gems, while the drow we killed yesterday were dressed in silver-trimmed robes. All of them a bizarre mauve color, of course. It’s like shades of purple are the only colors Drow like). I wondered if these rooms were always here for guest quarters, or if the giants carved them out specifically to host the drow. Probably doesn’t matter too much.

Finally, there’s a secret door and spy-hole at the back of the bedroom. Ezekiel thinks there’s a fire giant on the other side. We’ve decided to go the long way around, and are returning to the corridor. This black-and-purple room has me on edge…

**

Rescuing prisoners has been a mixed bag today.

Just as we left the drow suite, a boom seemed to shake the whole fortress. We didn’t know what it was yet, of course, but we wanted to find anyone who needed rescuing before the fortress collasped or something.

The first cell we came to that was locked gave no trouble to Raven’s lockpicking skills, but it did prove beyond us to pull it open. The inhabitant of the cell, however, kicked the door open and turned out to be two centaurs. They were somewhat discombobulated at seeing us, but Mikael spoke centaur to them and Raven offered them rations, and when we convinced them we were the good guys, they offered a prayer to Beori and ate the rations before we gave them directions to the stairs up and out (possibly also telling them about one of the armories on their way, but I’m not sure). They were anxious to not spend any more time in the fortress than necessary.

The next cell was more…disappointing. It was the cell behind the drow’s secret peephole, and as Ezekiel had supposed, it held a fire giant. But he didn’t let us kill it. The giant said he was a disgraced lieutenant of Snuri’s, and Ezekiel offered him a deal – open the doors for us in exchange for food.

Well the next cell held a maddened troll that jumped on Ezekiel as soon as the door was open…but Mikael told our giant he could eat it, so he bit its head off about that quickly. I think Mikael and I have some different understandings about the natural order of things.

In the next cell, we found a gnoll that had been taking liberties with his cell mates, also gnolls, both deceased. We kept the fire giant from eating the live one, though he snagged a leg of gnoll after the survivor ran off. I wanted to throw up in my mouth about that time, but then the hall shook with another booming crash, and that effectively distracted me and we hurried on to open all the doors.

Next door held some human corpses beyond even Ezekiel’s help. The door after that opened to reveal a human woman chained to the wall. I finally got a pay-off for lugging Markessa’s clothes around in my bag for all this time, and I let Ezekiel and Clatrial take care of them. The young lady (Gareth, from the Yeomanry) is not a demon, and seems pretty well-adjusted for being captured and imprisoned by giants and gnolls. Ezekiel talked to her for a bit, and we convinced Clatriel to stick by her side. Clatrial would make anyone feel more at ease, and besides…once bit, three times shy.

Finally, finally, we found the cell door that Raven thought the booming noises came from. Our “pet” fire giant seemed to think so, too. He asked Ezekiel if his obligation was fulfilled, and so as soon as he cracked the door open, he took off down the hall.

Inside was a figure like a man, chained to the wall…only what a man. He had to be 19 or 20 feet tall if he was an inch. I’ve heard of his kind…Titan. They’re a type of giant that lives on the Upper Plains, and much more magical than the standard kinds.

Once I told Ezekiel that’s what he was, he got very excited. The Titan didn’t seem to be feeling well, so Mikael cast Neutralize Poison…and the effect was almost instantaneous. The Titan introduced himself as Kendar, and chuckled a little when Ezekiel introduced himself as the “Arbiter” of the God of gods. Once he was unchained and came out into the hall, he could stand up straight and stretch a little. He asked if anyone needed healing, but even he couldn’t do anything for the desiccated human corpses in the one cell. He did agree to come with us to help open doors so we could rescue any more prisoners that might be here.

The guardroom was at the far end of the hallway. It held assorted furniture – large and small, so maybe the gnolls were sometimes guards as well as prisoners – plus some kegs and unlit torches. Ezekiel’s gem found a loose stone in the corner, which uncovered a chute of some kind…maybe more of a narrow tunnel – too narrow even for me – that wound back and forth into the darkness and stank of rats. Mikael crawled a little way along as a bat, and said something was squeaking in there – and sharpening a knife. We decided maybe some kind of humanoid rat could use tools, but we also decided they probably weren’t connected with the giants and the drow, and we needn’t waste any more time on them.

The giants had a torture chamber in a huge natural cavern to the south. The only vaguely interesting thing was a couple pieces of jewelry somebody dropped next to a knucklebones game. I guess when we came stomping downstairs and killing everything yesterday, the guards abandoned their game. Don’t have time to destroy all the yucky, pokey things in there.

The next room was…I guess a tomb. The walls were lined with huge (giant-sized) sarcophagi, all carved with images of kings or queens. They were all different materials, too – stone, bronze, iron… On the floor lay four stone sarcophagi, two of them still blank. It could be those were for the current king and queen, but we didn’t disturb them to see if we recognized King Snuri. Fire Giants are Evil, and a menace, but I’ve nothing against them being properly buried.

A smithy, in the room with the open lava, and a barracks equipped with straw and hides, rounded out the rest of the floor. We weren’t ready to call it quits for the day, so we headed down the stairs across from the morgue – with Gareth toward the back, to keep her more safe. I don’t like dragging rescued prisoners around the dungeon with us, but sometimes there’s no better option.

As we descended, the workmanship of the passage changed. Above, it is smooth and clearly worked…below, the walls are rough and irregular, like natural cave formations. At the bottom of the stairs, Master Kendar helped us open a pair of enormous iron doors, and then we were confronted with three branching passages…again, all looking more like natural cave tunnels rather than something built by people.

We picked the right passage on principle, and followed it along, past stalactites (not alive this time), and water dripping quietly into pools, until we reached a cavern so tall our lights just barely reached the ceiling. A thick pillar supported the roof in the center, while between it and us – we saw a huge pile of coins, with a red dragon coiled on top, apparently asleep.

We held a quick whispered counsel, and arranged ourselves so that those least resistant to fire would be behind it, and those more resistant would hold its attention. Tressarian let me loan him to Clatriel, so he could protect her while she charged with the front line. I suppose we should have known something was up, when the dragon didn’t seem to notice all our loud whispering, and our attempts to tip-toe in full armor (Aliana is a remarkable person, but she doesn’t tip-toe).

Well, Mikael gave the signal by starting to cast his spell (he had a spell he thought could kill the dragon that he wanted to try), so as he waved his mistletoe and chanted, the rest of us sprang into action. Lydia waved a wand and shot a flurry of ice shards at it, while Oaklock swung his sword at its tail (I think it bounced off the scales, but I couldn’t see very well).

The dragon swung its head around (precisely what we didn’t want it to do) and blew at Oaklock…only it didn’t blow fire. I don’t know what it blew, but it looked like sparkles or grey dust or something, and Oaklock threw up his arm to shield his eyes. Ezekiel shouted something about that not being fair – but before he could do more, Aliana stabbed it so that it died.

We circled the pile a few times, trying to figure out what felt off about all this…until Ezekiel used his very most favorite magic item, and told us it was actually a gorgon (not deceased) hiding under an illusion of a red dragon (complete with hoard). Lydia and Aliana say a gorgon is a creature of fae that can turn people to stone with their breath, so we’re all really lucky that it didn’t take on Master Oaklock. (I think it’s redundant…we already have medusai, and basalisks, we don’t need yet another thing that turns flesh to stone! But they didn’t ask me.)

Master Kendar said it was about time for him to leave – the passages were getting cramped for him, and we hadn’t found any fire giants for him to fight, so he would take his leave. But first he pointed out the ring Ezekiel was wearing – the ring with a fish, a star, and a whirlwind carved on it – and said it reminded him of the fisherman who fished up the Prince of Fishes, and the child who wished on the first star of the evening, and king who met a jinn in the desert. And he said that another gold ring we had found was magical had a “similar power” in it, though he couldn’t tell more just by looking at it.

We agreed that information was a princely reward for letting him out of the cell, and after he vanished we set those rings aside in a separate pocket to take a closer look at them later. But the day was not quite done yet.

The floor of the cavern had enough sand and dirt that I could pick out footprints – mostly giant, though a few of them were elf-sized. Most of the footprints through this cave led on through an open doorway, but a handful led up to a huge boulder sitting against the wall…almost as though it were blocking something in the wall.

Ezekiel and Mikael with their gauntlets of strength, along with Agnar and Aliana, managed to scoot the boulder out into the room a few feet…and immediately a blast of flame exploded in our faces. I’m glad Clatrial was still holding Tressarian…and so is he, because it means they were able to stab the actual, real, legit red dragon as it shoved its head out through the hole in the wall. Agnar and Ezekiel hit it, too. It seems anti-climactic to say we killed a dragon in under a minute…but when you consider it could kill us in under a minute, too, if the tables were just slightly turned, I think it’s perfectly fair.

After Ezekiel and Mikael healed everyone’s burns, we poked our noses past the dragon’s body into his chamber. It was barely big enough for him, and the floor was strewn with coins, gems, and various other expensive things. With that, we agreed it was time to go home for the day – so Lydia opened the portal, and summoned some disciples to help ferry the treasure to Haven.

Gareth says she came here for Snuri’s treasure, but didn’t get that far…but surely we must have a vault in our fortress, right? I was gratified Ezekiel didn’t offer to show it to her, but he did assure her we could get her safely on her way home, and provision her appropriately. She mentioned some pirate king who’s supposed to have an enormous hoard of treasure…I really don’t know about that girl. Not sure her sense of self-preservation is functioning properly.

The most interesting thing from the hoard so far is probably an ancient longsword, etched with runes. I don’t recognize the make, but the scabbard seems to be from a red dragon hide, and adorned with gems. Ezekiel says that when he held it, he got a distinct feeling of satisfaction about the nearby dragon corpse. It doesn’t seem magical, but there’s more to quality than magic, I guess. Tressarian would be anxious if he heard me talking like that.

Found a note to myself – collect the magic silver mirror from the quarters upstairs. Lydia says she can adjust the portal once we finish clearing out this collection.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…ruining the moment, it’s what we do

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

We found the kennel room where they kept the hellhounds, and a couple barracks – one of them equipped for juvenile giants. I don’t remember seeing any of those here yet.

Also found a kitchen with a fire pit that seems naturally heated…as in, maybe a volcanic vent. Ezekiel would have a better idea. The fortress definitely sits on lava in some places – they used a natural vent as a garbage chute. Someone very unhelpfully cast darkness at the mouth of the opening, so if we were not so careful and thoughtful, we might have slid in the grease to a sudden and crispy-fried death in the lava below. Even Raven needed a rope while checking that the chute didn’t lead anywhere interesting.

According to our map, there’s nothing else on this level to explore, so it’s time to take the stairs down…

**

How to begin? For starters, splitting the party always makes things confusing.

When we reached the bottom of the stairs, we heard chanting…it could have been giant voices, but it was too far away to be sure. Almost at once, though, we heard hellhounds barking, much nearer – perhaps they scented us.

Ezekiel told me to take my invisible self and run the other direction to check for prisoners that might need rescuing, while the others dealt with the threat at hand. After taking a moment to swap for my ring of infravision, I headed up the north passage.

I passed a room lit with lava (probably the same lava we saw from the kitchen chute), and a couple trolls – but they had no prisoners, and seemed to be minding their business, so I kept on. Not too much farther along, I turned a corner of the passage and found a giant guarding a door. The sound of chanting came much louder from the other side of the wall – right by me – but I didn’t think I could take out the guard and still be sneaky…and I didn’t want to take on the whole group by myself.

So I returned back down the passage – toward the crackle of lightning and the crash of boulders hitting stone, and various other shouts of battle. When I came up to the others, giants and gnolls glowed with faery fire, mostly on the far side of a blade barrier that sliced across the corridor just above our heads. Raven and Agnar were on the front line, while Ezekiel stood to the back with Lydia.

I was trying to explain the situation to Ezekiel, in between shots with my bow, when a scream ripped down the corridor…from behind us. Let’s just say it didn’t sound like a giant scream.

Aliana and Oaklock looked at each other, then she pivoted, told Clatrial to guard Ezekiel, and charged. Ezekiel and Mikael were already heading toward the scream, and Raven was trying to bring Agnar…but Agnar was having too much fun fighting fire giants beyond the blade barrier. So Heiron and I let the paladins do their thing, and waited to back him up until Raven got through to him.

It didn’t take too long…Lydia zapped the remaining giants, and that pursuaded Agnar the good fighting was behind us. When we caught up with the others, they had killed the giant on the door, and Ezekiel was healing an elf in ripped clothes.

Moments later, Ezekiel announced that the wall at the turn of the passage (the wall that the chanting came from) was fake, and he and Clatrial charged through the apparently stone surface. Aliana left Master Oaklock talking to the rescued elf, and followed them while Mikael was still trying to figure out how it worked (staring at the wall and poking with his staff). Agnar arrived in time to see Aliana disappear, and charged after her, yelling something like, “Save some for me!”

Meanwhile, Master Oaklock and the other elf found the giant’s keys in his pocket, and started unlocking the doors right near us – there were actually a couple doors there that turned out to be cell doors. I stood guard with my bow, since Raven and Heiron still hadn’t returned from securing our rear down the south passage. It sounded like plenty of giants were beyond the wall, though, so when Raven and Lydia arrived (she can keep up because she’s wearing boots of speed), I left them to guard the elves and found my way through the illusory wall.

The first thing I saw was steps going down – and a blade barrier spinning and slicing through the air at the foot of them, about the height to take off someone’s head if he were coming down the stairs. From the way people were moving, though, I could tell there was another doorway over to the left, so I circled around and came down a staircase that only had dead giant weasels to trip on, no deadly blades.

Ezekiel and Aliana were on the far side of the room, battling more drow. Lightning crackled, arrows flew, fire giants died. (I found out later some of the lightning came from the pillars lining the room.) One of the fire giants was an ugly, hairy female wielding a scepter – and on examining her body afterwards, we think she was Snuri’s queen, “Frupy.” Which means the giants’ leadership is mostly destroyed, now, we hope…and we’ve killed another dark elf. Aliana killed a male with another of those gross tentacle-staves, and it seems the drow were heading up this ritual in this “temple.”

We took a moment to take in the creepy atmosphere and the gross murals, then went to check on the prisoners Master Oaklock had released. In the “temple,” strange light swirls through the air – blobs of mauve and violet, which you’d think would make you think of spring flowers, but it really doesn’t. The pillars supporting the roof are creepy, and not just because they zapped Aliana with lightning. The left-hand (western) wall shows giants bowing down to a black stone, and making sacrifices of humans and giants. The opposite (eastern) wall is painted with creatures of various kinds all crawling up to three tentacle-beings and being eaten. I don’t get what the food-creatures get out of the deal. I’m also not sure what the tentacle-abominations are supposed to be, but I really don’t need Ezekiel to explain…I know they’re bad, and I’ll hopefully never meet them.

The front of the “sanctuary” has that burning eye symbol that we’ve associated with King Snuri, along with a Y superimposed on a triangle, with I feel we’ve seen before, but I’ll have to consult my notes. [Margin note: the shrine underneath the Hill Giant fortress had a double-triangle made of copper in the floor, which Ez has connected to House Alservs, which are the Drow worshiping the Elder Elemental Gods. I think that was a different triangle, though.] Also some braziers burning a green flame that looks like someone threw up snot, and some fat black candles burning lavender flames (again, the color makes you feel like death and fungi, not like flourishing herb gardens. It’s a disturbing thing…).

Aliana says the rescued prisoners said their companions were being sacrificed here, but there’s no sign of residue here now (not even a pile of ashes and bones). It’s tidy, but somehow that’s one of the worst parts of this. When we finally rejoined Master Oaklock, he had five other elves with him – including a lady that Aliana embraced and called “Princess Shallaria.” The princess says she and her retainers were traveling through the Jotens for fae reasons, when the giants captured them. She says several days ago something happened that shook up the giants, and the ceremony today was almost an act of desperation. I guess losing the Fire Giant king and most of his warriors would do that…

Ezekiel says there’s still one female drow at large, and we don’t know how many more giants. The elves didn’t know of any more prisoners, but we couldn’t very well wander around with most of our spells used up, and with trying to protect the rescued prisoners.

We moved everyone into the “temple” to finish looting the giants’ bodies. Ezekiel took the drows’ gear, presumably to safely dispose of anything Evil. The Fire Giant Queen had some jewelry (and of course her huge iron scepter), but nothing else seemed important…except the whole room felt vaguely magical (Tressarian said the altar was the strongest, but it definitely resonated through the whole room.) The longer we stood around, the more I noticed everyone (not just me) looking over our shoulders and twitching…so it’s just as well we got out of there.

Lydia brought us through the mirror back to the Haven fortress. Tomorrow, she will send the princess and her party to Gorna, which should make it easier and quicker for them to make their way back home. That will also give someone (probably Aliana, since she volunteered – and she has the manners training) to deliver a report to His Grace’s people, so they know everything we’ve found so far. I suppose we should send a report to King’s Agent Lashton, but strangely enough no one volunteered to handle that.

I need to copy out some of our maps, and some of the documents we’ve found, to send with her…and I also need to warn Sirion and Ragni and Agni and the centaurs (and Keiran, if he’s still hanging out) about all the giants Ezekiel has invited to come over. He would be mighty cross if they all got killed as soon as they arrive. Honestly, I don’t know what he’s going to do about those ogre-mages, but I guess one worry at a time.


Find the previous entry here.

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.

Find the previous entry here.

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.

Behind the wall, a secret tunnel wound around, very roughly carved out of the rock. It was plenty big for us, but for a giant it probably felt secret and private. We found a dead-end down one passage, and a treasure room down the other – guarded by a red-scaled lizard thing with ten heads! (Lydia calls it a “pyrohydra.”) It chewed up Ezekiel, and took bites out of Agnar and Aliana, too, but they hit it back…taking advantage of the arrow wounds I gave it to kill it.

After that excitement, we took a moment to take in our surroundings: bolts of fabric, piles of coins, eight iron trunks bigger than coffins, a row of smaller coffers, even tapestries on the walls. Raven found a chimney in the corner and climbed up it – it looks like an old volcanic vent, perhaps, since it just leads up to the mountainside, and wouldn’t be useful as an exit, even for us.

Even though we haven’t laid eyes on our enemies yet today, everyone settled down to explore and ransack the treasure. Raven went around checking for traps. So far the most exciting ones are the blade trap that chopped through the silk fabric in the chest, and the chest entirely full of invisible snakes (we chopped the heads off a couple before Raven and Mikael convinced the rest to eat a snack and leave peacefully). I guess that chest also contained some jewelry that didn’t show up until Raven touched it…definitely someone put a lot of thought and magic into that one.

… Poison gas, poisoned handles (had to rinse Raven’s hands with holy water – that’s what we had). We’ve found copper and electrum pieces, and a man-sized cloak and boots. They’re nothing special, unless you’re moody.

… Found a half-dozen strange statues, all blocky and rough-carved, with geometric patterns of decoration. They are also magical and Evil. Ezekiel will probably smash them eventually, but I think he wants to do some more research on them first (that flaming skull is still bugging him).

… Found a trunk of silver pieces, a dozen ivory tusks, and some fine batons of rare, inlaid wood. The portable hole is getting full.

… One of the coffers was entirely full of gold rings, some of them magical, most of them not. I think they’d be great for gift ideas – you never know when you might need to thank someone, or honor a shrine, or something. We’ve sorted out the magical rings for later investigation.

Mikael found a container of hot spices. He and Raven did way too much nefarious snickering over them.

**

The curtains hanging on the south wall of the throneroom cover a doorway to another corridor – about forty feet wide. The corridor basically leads to three doors…one west, one east, one around the corner to the north. They’re all huge, iron-bound, and made of stone, so it takes Aliana and Agnar tugging underneath, with Ezekiel and Mikael and their gauntlets tugging above (and sometimes Raven wall-walking above them to pull from the very top) to get the doors open. And that doesn’t always work, either.

Ezkiel had us try the eastern door first – it has the same flaming skull motif emblazoned on it. Inside we found what must be the king’s suite – giant-sized tables, benches, and chairs sat in the outer waiting room, with unfinished drinks on the tables. Eight human shields and swords hung on the walls – Aliana says the symbols are Keoish, and that makes sense.

At the end of the room, a step leads to another throne, this time made of ebony, next to a giant bed. With pelts on the floor and weapons on the walls, it’s clear this was a place of ostentation (Lydia says that’s not how that word works).

Raven found some trophies – skulls and “small” armor – on a shelf partway up the wall. He also “discovered” a nozzle that shoots a jet of flaming gas from the wall. He thinks it’s to protect a secret entrance to the passage for the treasure room, but even with Ezekiel’s gem of seeing, we couldn’t find the opening. It all but confirms this was the king’s room, though, which makes me think the flaming skull must just be something he chose for his insignia, since there’s nothing really religious in here.

Mikael did find some bone augury tools on the table (he’s about the only one who could reach), but Ezekiel says they’re nothing to write home about. Maybe King Snuri had delusions of grandeur, but I guess he was playing with things above his head.

We tried the door just to the north of the suite door, the one around the corner, but we couldn’t get it open. That left the western door – and we did manage to budge it. Beyond lay a darkened dormitory, with hide rugs, tapestries, and cressets for torches.

Master Oaklock found a private suite behind a curtain, with richer decorations, an exotic wardrobe, a chair and writing desk, and some coffers to ransack. It seems an important female giant lived (or lives) here (we haven’t seen any more enemies yet, but someone removed the bodies from the hall…). Raven and Ezekiel investigated all the furniture for traps…which I thought meant noticing the trap before it went off, but Ezekiel prefers to set off fireballs in his face – I guess it’s more direct?

Meanwhile, Lydia and Clatriel examined what might be the most interesting thing so far. The mirror at the vanity is actually magical, and when I walked past it, even though I was wearing the invisibility sword, I could see my reflection. Lydia hasn’t discovered any other properties of it, but it’s still fascinating. If they could get this technology in something hand-mirror sized, that would be even more useful, but I didn’t want to bother Lydia with the suggestion at the moment.

The mirror also reflected snake-Mikael as actual-Mikael, and the reason he was in snake form is he could crawl through the crack of that northern door and make sure it wasn’t anything crucial we had to get at right now. Sounds like it’s just another bunkhouse, with cots and coffers for lower-ranking giants.

When Mikael and Raven rejoined us in the lady suites, Ezekiel was trying on a magical pendant of dark stone that flashes different colors at intervals. It’s not Evil, but he hasn’t found any other use for it yet. He did find a scroll of clerical spells that got him pretty excited. Anyway, the portable hole and bag of holding were getting pretty full by this time, so if we want to pillage the magic mirror, we’ll probably have to wait for next time (unless Lydia thinks Keom and Ronhass can carry it through her portal-mirror. I keep forgetting that Keom and Ronhass have other duties besides babysitting the dragons, now…we’re so used to just having them available to carry stuff around…).

**

That was everything in that wing of the fortress, so we returned to the main entrance hall where we had the huge battle, and started on the two wide northern passages. First off, they’ve constructed huge barriers of sharpened wood, at least as tall as me, in some places taller than Mikael. Beyond the spiky barricade sat magical darkness that couldn’t be dispelled by the light on our shields.

Ezekiel tried lighting his mace into the darkness, but it only let us see the mace. Lydia had a light spell she could cast, though, and that cleared away the darkness in that one passage (and made the stones in that place noon-day bright). Fortunately, the ceiling of the passage is even taller than the barricade, so after some discussion we used Lydia’s ebony fly to ferry us all over the top (it took a minute, there are so many of us now – and it could only carry a “driver” and a passenger. Still, you never know when these random things we pick up will come in handy).

(Note: making light wherever you need it is super helpful…check Tain’s diary for possible ideas.)

The first door we came to was built of stone and steel, and once our strong-arm team got it open, we found a barracks for – I assume from the smell – gnolls. We did kill a bunch in our big battle. Raven and the other searchers found a decent amount of gold pieces in amongst the bedrolls and other gear, while some of the rest of us investigated a couple human-sized doors on the north wall.

The first of these was bolted on the outside, and inside held a small bed (small even for an elf), a couple iron chests, and an armor rack. Some coins and dishes, but nothing that really told us about the personality of the occupant. The second door also had a bolt on the outside (curious configuration) and held a wood cot, a desk, a bookcase full of parchments, and a wood box with old clothes, all dwarf-sized. Hard to say how long they’ve been there, or how recently these rooms have been in use.

Among the parchments, Ezekiel found at least three maps of the nearby countries. (Well, I say “nearby,” but we’ve actually only reached this place by magic…so it’s hard to say how far away Sterich really is. Anyway, it seems clear they used these maps to plan some of their campaigns against Sterich, the Yeomanry, and even Keoland – there are notes scribbled in the margins or tacked to the pages.) Ezekiel couldn’t read either of the languages the notes were written in…one of them seemed to be dwarvish script, but Agnar couldn’t make much sense out of it, either. (It’s also not clear who “they” are…if they had a non-giant prisoner in here, why was he plotting out their campaigns? The furnishings seem much rougher than anything the drow were using.)

Last of all, another giant door opened in the south wall of the room…well, not at first, but after Mikael scouted it as a snake, we decided it sounded important enough that we should investigate it all together…so he shaped the stone around the hinges until the door opened permanently with a great crash.

Beyond a curtain, a huge room opened up – maybe as large as the hall where we first entered, except more square – with a giant-sized conference table down the middle. In one corner sat a smaller chair on a platform, such as could be scooted up to the table if the giants wanted to confer with someone that size (drow-sized, we assume).

Another door leads out of the east wall, while two alcoves are hidden behind curtains on the other two walls. The first alcove had a map that could well be of the area surrounding this fortress (if so, then we are in the mountains somewhere south of the Yeomanry right now) and a chest…a chest that Raven carefully disarmed, carefully unlocked, and carefully opened – only to find a pile of ordinary rocks. He and Ezekiel both took one (they’re not even magical), I guess as a souvenir.

The room also held a chest of coins, and six bone batons with strange runes etched on them. Not strange as “mystic” – the sticks aren’t magical – but strange as in they’re not any language any of us recognized. They did have a “fire giant” feeling to them, but I’d never learned about them in any of my studies. The most probable conclusion is that they’re “signets” of authorization for messengers.

The second alcove held the mother lode – a cabinet stacked top-to-bottom with scrolls and parchments. Since almost all of them seemed to be in a different language (or languages), Lydia pulled up a chair and cast a spell to let her understand them – then set to work reading as many as possible before the spell wore off, including the papers from the dwarf-room. (Those seem to be mainly notes about the Fire Giant forces here…their numbers, what tribute they receive, etc. By whom, for whom??) And the baton-runes read “Official business of King Snuri the Fiercesome,” so our hunch is basically confirmed.

… She’s still going. Mostly letters to and from other giant leaders (Ez is trying to take notes) but you never know when something really interesting is going to turn up.

**

At last, a scroll written in common – marked with a special seal in silvery wax. The symbol is either a staff, or simple line. The message orders King Snuri to gather all kinds of giants and creatures under his command and attack the human lands to the east and northeast (I guess the Yeomanry? Was the trouble in Sterich an overflow of that??), while in return the Drow promise “powerful help” (I guess the letter wasn’t more specific. It was written in Common, so it wasn’t a failing of our translation). All that, signed “Eclavdra.” My parents had eleven children, and they came up with personal, unique names for every single one. What’s the drow’s excuse?

Ezekiel is more concerned about what the Drow want in the human lands. Their involvement does seem to explain the huge black ball of yarn strangling Istivin…say what you like about giants, that’s not really their style. Add to that the freaky shrine underneath the Hill Giants’ fortress, and we have the makings of a serious threat to humanity.

Will the King’s Agent Lashton care enough to actually do something about it? Or is his head too far up – that’s not nice.


Find the previous entry here.

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.

We had barely got in the door when Frost Giants opened up on us with a ballista. Fortunately those things take a moment to reload, and the two Rockys headed down to deal with them.

Meanwhile, Aliana and I heard some Fire Giants waiting in reserve in an alcove hidden behind a curtain, so we went to deal with them. Tressarian appreciated that.

By the time I came out, the others had advanced – and Madam Olgani hurled a lightening bolt down the corridor into a knot of Frost Giants. I knew that was something Storm Giants do, but I guess nothing substitutes for real world experience.

Agnar charged down the hall. Madam Olgani started in on what I can only assume was Storm Giant swearing – and bounded over our heads with a few strides to swing at one of the Frost Giants (I think it was their leader). Ezekiel made some remarks that sounded even worse, though I couldn’t understand him, and the Jarl dropped dead. And things were only just getting started.

By this time, we had advanced down the entry corridor and reached a wider hall, with branching corridors leading off at angles in different directions. One led back behind us (toward the north west) while another led ahead, to the north east. The “main” hall led straight east, toward a throne that looked pretty imposing, but honestly I never got a chance to really look at it long enough to process more than that.

I think giants were coming down the passages from every direction (plus from some passages concealed by curtains that we only found later), but they were staggering themselves so we could never be sure who was coming from where. Ezekiel threw up his spinning blades in one direction, and the instant fortress in another, while Lydia threw lightening and the giants threw boulders.

Mikael summoned his elephant from the statue, and it started charging around in the chaos. Madam Olgani traded blows with a two-headed etin, while Agnar competed with Aliana to define what the “front line” was. In many respects, it was a lot like any other battle we’ve had…except it went on and on, and we’d still only seen the Frost Giants and the etin.

Tressarian and I did all right for ourselves…I mean, we kept killing things…but it just wasn’t enough. Tressarian only moves so fast…maybe we need to train ourselves some more, but he just doesn’t hit enough times. When you’re surrounded by giants, you need to throw out everything you’ve got. Which meant my bow.

About the time I switched, Tres told me some giants were shouting about oil. So I warned Ezekiel right before someone broke a barrel of oil all over us and sicced the hellhounds on us.

(Ragni said that’s a really boring way to tell the story, but Agni said he’s invested and wants to hear how it ends. Ragni said, obviously it worked out since we all came home, but Agni said, well the blood all down my sleeve came from somewhere, and the tension is killing him. Then Ragni said, it almost killed me, and I was actually there, so if the tension alone is killing Agni, it’s a good thing he wasn’t actually there. I can’t remember exactly how he said it, but it was really funny.)

Anyway a hellhound blew fire down on us and fried one of the Frost Giants, but the rest of us were either too far away or more fire-resistant than they anticipated. Master Oaklock used his frostbrand sword to douse random fires, and the rest of us just kept charging. Madam Olgani barely stood still long enough for Aliana to chant a protection spell over her (I think she had a bit of berserker frenzy on, though hard to tell if that was cultural, or a product of her long captivity).

Ezekiel threw the instant fortress again, crunching hellhounds as it drove its foundations into the ground. It also blocked the passage, though, so I dashed inside to do some more shooting through the arrow slits.

Meanwhile, Heiron, Lydia, and Mikael were having their own adventure guarding one of the passages to our rear. I didn’t even know what was happening, that’s how spread out we were. Sounds like it was pretty fierce, with some of them basically dying – but Mikael was there to heal them, and they finally drove the giants back so they could retreat under Ezekiel’s spinning blades and rejoin us.

Lydia even ran up into the fortress and shot at the front line with a wand, because she has a bit of Aliana’s stubbornness once she gets going, and there’s no convincing her to back down when she has people she wants to kill.

Heiron took longer to join us, having no magic boots, but that gave Ezekiel time to order us all out of the fortress so he could shrink it so Aliana could do a proper charge (though leaping off the fortress roof onto a giant’s neck would also have been dramatic).

When the fortress shrank out of the way, a battalion of gnolls greeted us with wild yips…but they were only there to buy their leaders time. Heiron and I killed a row of them while Madam Olgani punched another giant (none of our ladies had an interest in slowing down).

Mikael’s earth elemental (only one was still constituted by now) melded through a wall to advance and bludgeon the enemy, while his elephant stomped on a hellhound. Seriously, he might have a bigger kill count than we do, we who use conventional weapons.

Mikael himself melted some of the stone into mud to slow down some of the giants (and drown some of the gnolls), while Raven did his best to stab them. Master Oaklock started shooting bolts of colored light down the corridor, and finally – finally – we could see Fire Giants at the back of the crowd, clutching weapons or hefting boulders, ready to join the melee.

Lydia threw another lightening bolt, but way in the back a couple dark-skinned elves made magical gestures and prepared to back up the giants. That confirmed at least some of Ezekiel’s theory about what’s going on here. There was also a hideous monster that Agnar and Heiron killed (I didn’t see it until after it was dead) with three heads that looked like a lion, a dragon, and something else. It also had wings, but never got the chance to fly. (I asked Lydia if it was born that way, or Markessaed into that, and she thought it was just one of the weird and disturbing creatures the world is naturally full of. Agni wants a picture.)

Raven threw a stinking cloud up the hallway, but the magic users on the other end threw back a cloud of darkness that even our lit shields couldn’t penetrate. I kept firing into the darkness at where the enemies had been, and Raven joined me with his crossbow – I think we heard some cries of discomfort and dying within the gloom. Still, things went better when Ezekiel cast light into the darkness and he, Aliana, and Agnar could charge the enemy and fight the dark elves head-on.

The drow lady had one of the weirdest, grossest things I’ve seen…and I’ve been around, by now. Her weapon had six tentacles attached to a rod…maybe I should say, six tentacles growing off of a handle. Even after she was dead, the tentacles still flapped around and made unsettling gestures until Ezekiel pounded it into the ground with his mace. Tressarian said it definitely smelled Evil.

Ezekiel said a couple fire giants ran off, which should be no surprise, but once we killed the drow, there was a moment of calm. Tressarian and I did a quick check for magic, but the drow actually didn’t have any magic gear! The lady had a ring that radiated Evil (and of course her tentacle mace was a thing all itself) but the rest of their armor and weapons just seemed well-made…not magically enhanced. She did have a medallion with the copper staff symbol, which suggests they’re part of that splinter group the drow spy told us about.

Several of the Frost Giants had ivory armbands with an amber bear, like we’d found before, so it must have been some kind of membership badge. Less meaningful now. The giants also had a scroll and a map in bone scroll cases (we haven’t had a chance to really examine them yet) and I think Ezekiel squeezed a ridiculously large two-handed sword into the portable hole (I guess he thinks it’ll look good on the wall of his cathedral or something).

Aliana and Raven stood guard over the passages at the far north end of the battle, which shows we were trying to keep our heads in the game, but it still wasn’t over quite yet. Madam Olgani decided to leave, since she got what she wanted when Jarl Grugnir died. So Ezekiel and I were walking her to the front door (both courtesy, and in case she needed back-up along the way) when a pack of hellhounds burst from behind a curtain in the throne hall and charged us across the field of dead bodies.

Yep. The climax was yet to come.

A full squad of fire giants came in after the hellhounds “broke the ice.” Heiron was close enough to fire off some arrows. Mikael’s elephant squashed a giant, and our friends were running up from the other hall…but it was almost too little too late.

Mikael, Ezekiel, Madam Olgani, and I were front and center this time. Mikael took a sword-strike that dropped him to the ground, bleeding profusely.

I tried to counter with Tressarian…but either he was too eager, or I was trying too hard to go faster – and I just about chucked him at the giant. I managed not to lose my grip, but it left me way exposed, and the giant (must have been a king or general, since he wore a crown) caught me in the gap of my chainmail right at my shoulder. It still hurts, and Sirion says I’m lucky he didn’t cleave it right off. I said, I guess there’s something to be said for armor.

Aliana, Agnar, and Raven ran up just about then. I’m not used to taking breaks during combat, but I figured I wouldn’t be much help if my arm did come off…so I stepped behind Ezekiel and quaffed a potion from my bag (note to self: buy more of those; they’re handy for when the clerics are busy).

Ezekiel ran back and forth between Mikael and Madam Olgani, who were both on the ground. Mikael’s elephant, however, stomped on yet another giant, and Master Oaklock kept busy cutting down hellhounds. Things seemed poised on the edge, where one shift could rock the battle one way or another. And at that moment, Sirion jumped out of the air, shouting commandingly in a language I don’t know.

Aliana and Raven pushed the giants back until the last pair fled through a curtained door. Tressarian got to kill some hellhounds, so he’s satisfied, and Mikael’s elephant didn’t step on me, even though I turned invisible again (briefly).

We kind of looked at each other and took a breath for a moment. Mikael shifted through a couple animal forms to heal himself, and cleric types passed around what healing they had left (including Sirion, because of course he can do everything).

Raven had started to chase after the two giants that ran, but he quickly came back to us, since even if we could keep up with him, we were all about at the end of our strength…and though he wasn’t as hurt as some of the rest of us, he couldn’t take them out alone.

Ezekiel organized a quick search of the bodies – chiefly for magic, gems, and papers. The one who tried to chop me in half had necklace of coral skulls, and a crown with rubies, so we think it’s safe to assume he was their king. What will this mean for their organization now? We can but wait and see…but not here.

We finally walked Madam Olgani safely to the door, and she flew off (did I know Storm Giants could do that? I don’t feel like I did) after telling Ezekiel she knows where to find him if she wants to.

Other than the king’s jewelry (and cloak), they didn’t have much wealth on them. Could be they have more stashed here in the fortress, but we’re in no condition for more exploring. The rest of the mysteries will have to wait.

Lydia brought us back through her mirror, and when we got through the passage into the library, it’s like Usin had the entire fortress there to welcome us back formally (how long have we been gone again?) but I think I have to write about that part tomorrow.

I have a campfire to enjoy, and it really is nice to just not move my arm, and process things for a moment.


Find the previous entry here.

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.


Find the previous entry here.

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.


Find the previous entry here.