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.

Dear diary…dark residue, part 2

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

Well, the report from Raven makes it sound a bit more exciting. As Ezekiel began pouring holy water onto the altar, at first it began to steam…then the water pooled on the top of the altar…then, finally, the water turned red. After seven vials, Ezekiel turned to prayer and declaring the tenets of his faith – which on the one hand, aren’t that extensive, since he (mostly) had to deduce them without divine revelation, but on the other hand, they are powerful in their simplicity:

Life is superior to death. Good is life. Good has a King, and that King is Good, and Worthy of being served.

Raven says it was that worthiness that first inspired him to ask Merikka to release his services so he could attach himself to Ao (that is the person Ezekiel called Ao for the longest time)…but I think he was also thrilled by the sense of mystery, of uncovering truths even the gods have forgotten. You can tell by that tone of voice he gets when explaining what happened. It’s sort of being Chaotic in the most Lawful way.

Anyway, after Ezekiel spent a good hour trying to exorcise whatever was living in the shrine, a winged shape appeared behind the three of them, glowing white in the underground darkness. Mikael just about choked on his teeth (yes, we were supposed to stay back, but after that long, who wouldn’t be peeking around the corner?).

The figure assured Ez that the darkness who had lived here was long gone – centuries gone, in fact – and the taint we felt was just a left-over from his (its?) being here. However, since Ezekiel was so focused and devoted to doing his best here, the “higher-ups” sent a messenger to ease his mind (and Aliana’s). And Raven was also there.

After the divine visitor left, Ezekiel felt more confident to explore the rest of the shrine – specifically a flight of stairs that led down. Before we could get properly nervous, however, the stairs ended in a pile of rubble…past an alcove with some kind of mirror, down about ten paces, then under a tumble of stones and debris that would take a while to clear. The walls display frescos and bas-relief that feel straight out of the Temple – twisting tentacles; ugly, almost-mushroom things; a skin-tingling sense of wrongness. I don’t know how some people think this is cool.

As anticlimactic as it was, the lingering energy of this place still gave us some…not exactly trouble, but a taste of what we missed. Ezekiel stared into the alcove a minute, and said some purple, pink, mauve, sickly pale kind of creature, or shape, waved its tentacles/fronds at him. He stepped back toward Aliana, and by the time he mentioned it, it was gone…or something. Raven says he saw something he can’t quite describe, but it made his hairs stand up – and if Raven is weirded out, you know it’s bad.

Ezekiel wasn’t satisfied until he put on the ring he got from Father Klim and tried whacking at the mirror a bit with his mace. He got a few flakes of some crystally, mica-looking stuff to shed off, but other than that he didn’t accomplish anything except flexing in front of his wife…and she’s a paladin.

Mikael took Shakka around, but didn’t find any secret passages or shifting stones. Ezekiel and Raven were just arguing about whether we really wanted to find what the giants were so eager to dig up, when someone pointed out we still hadn’t completely explored the orcs’ cavern.

So we went back to the passage outside the shrine and followed it down to a more natural-appearing cavern – full, as Raven and Agnar said before, with discarded blankets and ashes from cookfires. Aliana remembered that the orcs had an arrangement with the trogs – food for water – but the orcs obviously couldn’t reach the surface for food, or they would have escaped (unless they were staying for the sake of their imprisoned comrades, which seems improbable).

We finally found a sinkhole tucked away down one passage, where the ceiling of a cave below had given way. A heap of garbage sat at the bottom, and then a voice seemed to speak into our minds: “Food?”

We all looked around at each other…except Ezekiel and Mikael, who didn’t hear anything. Maybe the creature doesn’t talk to cleric-types. Anyway, Raven (ever generous) dropped a ration into the hole, and it disappeared into the garbage vat. The creature wasn’t satisfied until Ezekiel multiplied a ration several times over and dropped them down – then it called us “good friends” and Raven asked it about the orcs.

It said the orcs used to “drop food down,” and when it seemed chill with our presence, we lowered Raven down on a rope. He said there was another network of caves down there, so we filed down after him – avoiding stepping on the big blob of mouth and tentacles that Raven called “Mr. Trash-bags” (I think it was in a happy food coma, and kept mumbling cheerful, vague answers to Raven’s questions into our minds).

Sure enough, there’s an octopus of passages down there, trailing away from the neo-otyugh’s large cavern room (that’s what Lydia named it, since it’s like the thing from the Temple…only bigger, and better behaved). Orc tracks lead plainly down one tunnel, but Ezekiel wasn’t interested in finding what they had for food, but in the dark Evil that had them so scared – so that left basically two directions. One with a plethora of shuffling, trampling footprints from a creature I don’t recognize (but that made my neck-hairs stand up), and a tunnel that led to a worked stone corridor like the ones above – complete with supporting buttresses and tasteless bas-relief here and there. Mr. Trash-bags says many-legged insects sometimes come from there, and when the orcs killed them, he got to eat them. From the tracks (and from his licking his lips…although he doesn’t exactly have lips), they must be truly horrifying in size. So we went the other way first.

The finished passage led into a large room…with the double triangle from the Temple worked into the floor in green copper, probably longer than I am (though none of us risked stepping on it. Raven did toss a pebble onto it, but nothing happened).

A staircase leads up from this junction room, ending in a pile of rubble. According to the map, this should be the other side of the sanctuary we found, which answers some of our questions. So for once we picked the right direction right away.

Another passage out of the central chamber brought us to two other rooms…one of them had old cobwebs cluttering the door, and (once we got the door unstuck) a couple giant spiders inside. I suppose they were pretty hungry with how instantly they attacked us, but we killed them almost as quickly (Mikael was sad and sentimental after the fact, but he knows sometimes you have to put wild animals down. Plus he got to use his staff).

The second door on this hallway got us a little more. First off, we had to break down the door. Then, there was a cloud of “darkness” in the corner; and when Ezekiel went over to investigate it with his mace and light, a nimble figure with dark skin and elf ears stabbed at him.

Master Oaklock snapped something in Elvish that Aliana declined to translate, and dealt the killing blow. Then he said, no wonder the giants were so evil, if they’re mixed up with the Drow.

Ezekiel said, he wasn’t so sure – since the Drow was down here hiding. The Drow also didn’t seem to have anything on him that tied to the giants…although he had an odd pendant in the shape of a copper staff, that’s not a symbol I recognize. Ezekiel wants to question him, but it won’t be until tomorrow, since we’re…thorough.

In the meantime, we explored the rest of this paved area. One of the hallways is just bizarre. It tees off into two dead-ends…at one end, it’s noticeably warmer; at the other end, it’s almost cold, but not quite. Even Ezekiel, with the gem of seeing (wasn’t that the best birthday present ever?!), and Mikael, with Schakka, couldn’t find anything hidden or magical…it’s just Bizarre. I guess these ancient elemental types just enjoy random things.

Anyway, we got a bit more out of the last room. It lies opposite the room with the triangle, and is shaped like the inside of a ball – perfectly spherical. The whole surface is covered with mosaic pictures, and it’s sloped gently enough that dexterous people can walk around and look at them.

Lydia, Ezekiel, and Aliana spent a good hour walking around, pointing things out and piecing the narrative together. Lydia says it runs backwards in a counter-clockwise spiral (though Aliana said she started in a different place), and asked me if I wanted to copy it into my journal, but I don’t think I want these pictures anywhere near me.

Let’s see…tentacled creatures fought a spider, with the help of smaller followers (I didn’t get a clear definition of what race the followers were). A ram-headed figure and a dragon also fought against the tentacles, and Aliana and Ezekiel got all nerdy about which lord of the underworld they thought it was (Ez says his ram’s-headed mace is no relation). Finally, recognizable devil and demon figures hunted the tentacle beasts until the latter had to flee into the earth, while their ruler (the Tentacle Queen or something – I’m not totally clear) was imprisoned on a distant star (maybe the Astral Plain was involved? That’s hard to represent in a mosaic). The big spider swallowed the key to the ruler’s prison. Finally, the devils and the demons were free to rampage across the surface, while the tentacle beasts could only watch and glower (which is also hard to represent with mosaics).

Ez pointed out how remarkable it was that the devils and the demons were both fighting the tentacles…not that they necessarily teamed up, but they both considered it a threat. Lydia said, that didn’t make them friendly, just because they were fighting devils and demons. Aliana wondered how the giants fit in to all of this, since they clearly placed this fort above this old shrine for a reason, and drove the orcs to clear the rubble and repair the tunnels.

Someone reminded us they were still working at the smithy and the barracks when we interrupted them, but they didn’t put any kind of guard on the shrine to keep the “rebel” orcs from going there (of course, the shrine was the last place the rebel orcs would go; that was the whole source of their insubordination, anyway). Aliana said, maybe the altar in the shrine actually had held something – like a relic – but once the giants got it, they didn’t need the shrine anymore. And Raven wondered if that is connected with the sphere over Istivin.

I guess we can’t know for sure until we catch up with the giants’ leaders. In the meantime, Raven told Mr. Trash-bags that the orcs have left, so he might want to find some other place to find food…and Ezekiel and Aliana brought the Drow’s head so Ezekiel can perform his interrogation ritual in the morning (he said he dropped the dead body onto the copper triangle, but nothing happened. I guess Ezekiel is just a scientist at heart).

I admit I’m much happier to be spending the night outside the barracks, rather than down with all the giant insects. And Master Oaklock admits this side of the cells is much better than the other side.

Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…dark residue

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

We found a quantity of gold pieces and some potions in the room where the hill giant stayed with his white apes. We also found an extra sword for Master Oaklock so he could help protect the rescued merchants until Lydia could prepare to take them to safety.

While searching for the rumored “treasure room,” we found a store room full of barrels – some with a seal of a death’s head stamped in black wax. They seemed to have some kind of liquid in them, but some of us were afraid to mess with them lest they explode or something. (It could be connected to the excavation work here; one of the dwarves pointed out the stonework beneath the rubble is nothing orcs or giants would do.) Another item to add to the notes.

We also found a cistern in the form of a circular chamber with steps leading down to the water. There’s an outlet at the bottom, so the water seems to stay pretty fresh (filtering in from small openings around the edge). Raven and Ezekiel examined the outlet with a light marble and that invisible stone they have that’s like a necklace of adaptation, but they couldn’t tell how far down it went. Might be just as well.

Thr final branch of that passage leads to a barracks for stone giants…and we found three at home. We started with a bit of a tense stand-off, but Ezekiel put his earnest sympathy to work, and convinced them that we had killed the hill giant chief and were enemies of Jarl Grugnir. The stone giant spokesman thought we were foolish, but he said they were here to help clear and rebuild the tunnels – but their contact was in the hall above (dead) so they were out of work now. They shouldered their baggage and we escorted them safely out. Glad their politics was neutral enough that they didn’t try to avenge anybody here.

When we returned from seeing them out, we decided to take the rescued prisoners upstairs so we all could spend the night more comfortably, and in the morning Lydia can get them to safety. On the way out, though, we investigated the room where the manticors came from more thoroughly…and besides finding levers to raise and lower all the portcullises, we found a room full of chests – seven to be exact.

Ezekiel and Raven got busy sniffing out traps on them. Raven removed the spring-loaded scythe blade from one, but he missed the poisoned needle in another – but Mikael was on the spot and neutralized the poison before it could leave lasting damage.

Most of what we found was copper – an entire chest of coins, plus a quantity of ingots – but there was also a sizable quantity of gems, and eleven ivory tusks. I don’t think they’re magical, but they are something different. So now we have another reason to portal back to Haven in the morning.

And after that, we get to look at this “darkness that eats your brains.” Huzzah. Continue reading

Dear Diary…another basement

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

Lydia returned this morning as Ezekiel was securing the external doors. Mikael summoned his earth elemental from the stone, and we headed down the stairs behind the secret door [marker on map]

The workmanship down here is markedly different. Agnar pointed out no orc could make something so sturdy, and Aliana agreed. Even in this “secret back way,” the ceilings are tall – the bottom of the passage opens through an arch like seventeen feet high, complete with buttresses. I guess you could say we’re much less worried it’s going to collapse down on our heads without warning.

The first room we came to, four manticors charged us (they have a human-ish head, but a long, spiked tail, and four legs kinda like a lion. Mem: draw Roland and Markus a picture).
They gave us a scuffle, but Lydia and Mikael charmed two of them…and then Lydia talked with hers, and said they were prisoners, kept to guard the way, and fed through a chute – though barely. We already knew it wouldn’t end well. Their kind and our kind don’t mix well. Continue reading

Dear Diary…the hill giant hold

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

Raven and I went to scout as soon as it was light. As the sun’s light trickled over the peaks, it started to dispel the mist – but it was still pretty damp and hazy at the foot of the valley when we finally reached the fortress.

The fort is constructed of logs, each at least three feet across. I can’t imagine hill giants going to so much trouble on their own initiative, which makes me wonder who built this place and for whom. Raven took me onto the roof with the rope of climbing, and it’s a good thing we both had a firm grip on it, since the tiles were soaked. There were chimneys so much as gaps along the roof-line, where greasy smoke leaked out – mingled with booming laughter and harsh voices. So someone was up and about.

In the corner of the roof, a tower rose up to a sheltered platform. Raven slipped up the wall to check it out, and says there’s a guard with an alarm cymbal…but he happens to be asleep, so hopefully we can take him out without raising the alarm.

There’s a courtyard area at one end, but it’s hard to see anything because of the slope of the roof. Maybe Raven would have been more daring to climb over there if he wasn’t keeping me from falling off the roof. Anyway, there’s one main double-door entrance, and we rejoined the others on the ground near it.

Raven thinks the entrance is held by a bar or something like that, so he can’t just unlock it. Mikael has prepared to summon an earth elemental – plus the one he can summon with his magic stone – and Ezekiel suggested they go in through the main doors while a separate strike force take out the sentry in the tower and come down from there (Raven spotted the top of a staircase). I said that between Tressarian, Lydia’s staff, and Heiron’s new boots, the three of us could reach the roof easily, and Raven could tug us along with a rope so the only one in danger of slipping is the one with uncanny gecko feet. And, believe it or not, they went for my idea – so the four of us will be attacking from the rear while Aliana and the heavy-hitters break down the door and charge in.

And as far as we know, there are no prisoners, so maybe we can just kill everything without confusion.


For one of the few times we’ve busted down the front door, it’s gone pretty well. The four-person strike team snuck up to the watchtower without the sentry waking up…so now he is resting with whatever deity bothers to take the souls of hill giants. Heiron disabled the alarm cymbal, and Raven is so fast he made a pass for loot while the rest of us arranged ourselves and headed downstairs.

Somewhere about that time, the building vibrated as the front door crashed open, and when we reached the bottom of the stairs, the rest of the party had killed the guards napping by the entrance, and picked the biggest doorway leading deeper into the fortress to go through next. The two earth elementals removed the doors, and we stared down a long, wide corridor into a huge hall, swarming with giants.

Aliana charged, with the elementals stomping after her. Ezekiel dashed out to keep up with his wife, and Lydia snapped her fingers – sending a streak of white light stabbing through the enemies. I started spraying the group with arrows. Giants and ogres are big and tough, but that means their vital areas are also bigger.

How to describe it…I don’t think I’ve ever been in a battle before where chairs and oversized tankards flew around. Aliana fought a Cloud Giant, while standing on a table. There were also a couple Stone Giants in the crowd, so it seems not all of them refused to join forces like the ones we met on the road. We even killed a Hill Giant chief and chieftainess (judging from later study), but this set-up seems a little too elaborate to be all their doing. Someone is pulling the strings, as we confirmed later – but at the moment, of course, we were focused on killing giants.

The action finally moved so that I had to work my way down the entry corridor. Raven was taking a nap on the floor, and Lydia had a mug-shaped bruise on her face that Heiron was all worried about. When the excitement was over, Aliana spun around on the table (apparently part of being a cavalier is always making a production out of things…Theobaldus explained to Dree, and Dree tried to explain it to me) and jumped down to Ezekiel. The far walls of the dining hall (which is where we found ourselves) held plenty of doors, so I went to cover sone of the exits while others checked the bodies. (Mikael found a jewel-studded collar on the chief’s cave bear, which he says should fit Bearington. I wonder what Bearington thinks of that.)

Raven woke up, and found a ballista the chief was using like a crossbow. He was just explaining how it worked to Ezekiel when an orc poked his head in a side door. He poked it back out again immediately, but I whistled for Heiron to come join me (and Agnar came over, too) and we opened the door.

What should greet us but eleven ogres!

Heiron got the last one to surrender, so we left him to tie it up while Raven (who was feeling better now) helped me search the kitchen across the hall.

A pack of orcs cowered there, shielding themselves with serving platters and the like. Ezekiel and Aliana talked with them for a bit, and them we moved them over to the great hall for Heiron, Lydia, and Agnar to keep an eye on. Apparently they say the chief of this place was in the hall we just cleared, and there are more slaves who “escaped” to the basement level below. Ezekiel is doing his “God of all gods” thing and wants to send them on their way, but we all agreed we should clear this floor before we get more adventurous. There’s a stairway down in the pantry, and Raven blocked it so hopefully nothing can come up at our backs.

First, we found a bunkroom of some kind – with a magic sword concealed in a wall sconce that Aliana says claims to be for killing giants. Hope we can get it a good friend.

Next we found an armory full of giant-sized weapons. Two of the war-hammers are magical – and you’d think hammers would use the same muscle groups as axes, but I haven’t had the chance to experiment, and Tressarian points out I’m not exactly hurting for weapons anyway.

Schakka found us a secret door that led to some bedrooms. I tried to deal with the few sleeping giants before they woke up, but Aliana doesn’t agree with me (she says you should look your enemy in the eye and charge it head-on). We haven’t messed with treasure too much yet, since we want to clear out the hostiles, but there are plenty of furs and chests and jewelry for when we make another pass.

We also found a room full of giants whacking each other with sticks. From their proportions, I think they’re juveniles. We herded the prisoners into that room, so Heiron had only one door to watch (and we took away their sticks). Agnar grumbled a bit about being stuck on guard duty, but we assured him our sweep had been boring so far. The next bedroom got a bit more complicated. We startled a handful of giantesses, but once we killed the matron, Aliana said the surviving two had no heart to fight back. They must have been impressed by her (and Ezekiel) because one of them volunteered directions to the chief’s quarters and showed us where the giant matron had kept a couple potions in a chest (we let her keep the bangles in exchange).

The next room seems like some kind of sitting room or trophy room. All kinds of heads are mounted on the wall…including dwarf and human. Aliana thinks the shields have Keoish emblems, and that makes sense. It’s encouraging in as much as we’ve killed *some* of those responsible for attacking the people of Keoland. We inspected a skull on the mantle with the magic swords, but I think it’s just an ordinary skull (you can’t be too careful).

The chieftainess also had a cave bear, who was staying in her room, apparently. It did not want to listen to Mikael (which might be just as well, so Bearington doesn’t get jealous).

Finally, we found a door in the outer wall of the fortress that let us into that awkward place we couldn’t see very well from the roof. Turns out it’s a courtyard, and it used to be full of dire wolves…but Mikael threw around some Druid know-how and froze some of them, and the rest of us mopped them up (though not before one of them lunged and threw me off my feet. Tressarian isn’t going to let that go soon).

The chief’s council room is tucked around behind the dining hall…and sure enough, there’s a door hidden behind the manticor hide on the wall. We found some magical javelins in a closet, just Raven’s size – but he says he can’t have any more magical items right now (or it’ll be unfair to his enemies or something…monks have their own ideas). We found some scroll tubes hidden in a pile of firewood, and one of them contained a parchment with a symbol like from the Temple of Elemental Evil – that triangle with the three legs to make it look like the top of a pyramid or something. That feels like a lifetime ago, but Ezekiel says you’ll never truly rid the world of Evil because some people are just selfish, and they’ll always want power to just do whatever they want. We also found a map of this area, but it waits to be seen how accurate it is (drawn by giants, after all – or so we assume).

[sketched copy]

Another couple bunkrooms on the kitchen side…and a room with a bunch of female giants, with one male flexing for them. He made the mistake of flexing at Aliana, and she killed him… She insists she did it because she thought he was issuing challenge, not because she didn’t want Ezekiel to feel bad. We had a little awkwardness with the females, but Mikael talked to them in Hill Giant, and took them off to the other prisoners.

The courtyard contains two bunkhouses as well, which we checked out while Mikael made sure Heiron and the others were doing all right with the prisoners. I think one of his Earth Elementals had returned home by now, but the second had a longer connection to him, so it could follow along to back him up.

When we finally finished clearing this floor and opening all the doors, we reconvened to debate what to do with the prisoners. Raven wanted to hand them over to the Keoish authorities…but if you think about the state of that patrol we met, that’s laughable – well, maybe not laughable. But they definitely don’t have the facilities or the manpower to hold all these giants, juvenile or no. With the black sphere still encroaching on the city, they have enough to do with keeping the peace and keeping things running after so much evacuation, to say nothing of the continuing giant raids (which we hope to disrupt with our work here).

Ezekiel wanted to send the prisoners off into the mountains, and burn this fortress down so they can’t return. Raven pointed out that, just because the giants used it, we also could use it…specifically, Keoish forces could use it as a forward base in the mountains to support the counter-invasion. That also offers problems… Side note: while giants of some kind may have built this ground floor (especially given the size of the beams used and the rooms), there is evidence of some older work…especially the stairs to the basement. Be interesting to know the history of this place.

Aliana pointed out that reinforcements of any kind – either human, from Sterich, or giant, from the mountains – would take a while to get here…so we shouldn’t make that our chief worry. Mikael was concerned about the “freedom fighters” we heard were hiding in the basement, and wants to get them out and to safety. In the end, we decided the damage our prisoners could do (at least in the short term) is minimal…so we gave them a little “be good or we’ll have to come kill you” speech and escorted them to the door. (Agnar gave a much longer speech which Aliana declined to translate. I think he’s really hoping they come back for revenge so Ezekiel will tell him to go all out again.)

Six orcs and an ogre said the ones downstairs were part of their tribe, so they would stay and cook for us until the others are rescued from the basement. (Well, I think the ogre was just afraid to be off on his own…or maybe the orcs told him to work for them or they’d eat him.) So I guess there’s no getting around that. Ezekiel put a glyph on one of the basement doors, so no one could sneak up behind us, and Mikael and I fetched Donna and the horses from the cave. They’re not much interested in the “fodder” they had for the worgs, but we turned the kitchen upside down to find them something, and even a couple of the orcs helped out.

Meanwhile, the others made another sweep of the place, looking for treasure this time. We found piles and piles of jewelry, platinum pieces, and assorted things like a magic shield and a giant cape of otter skin. We also found…a whole barrel full of ears. Mostly dwarven and elven. I think Ezekiel plans to hold a little service over it later.

Lydia also found a note in Hill Giant that contains instructions for a raid in Sterich…a town that, according to our maps (and Aliana) is north of the Davish River. The note is signed by “Eclavdra.” At this point, I basically think all these “E” people are the same, just using different names to confuse pursuers or get plausible deniability or something. Or perhaps every Drow alive has a name starting with “E”. It does seem too much of a coincidence that all these evil masterminds are named similar things…and if they are the same person…what a reach she must have.

Lydia jumped back to Haven to send over the mirror-portal so we could send the loot through. (After all, the agent’s secretary said we could keep any treasure we found…and besides, we can niggle about money once it’s out of the mountains. This also gives us the chance to empty the portable hole, which we had full of money from a previous encounter.

In the morning, we head downstairs. Let’s hope this isn’t another maze of winding passages, all similar yet different, full of giant bugs and themed monsters.

Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…hiking through the hills

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

Later in the day, I spotted movement among the trees beside the path. Aliana and Agnar confirmed that (man-sized) warm bodies were moving back there (so, not undead) but we couldn’t tell more than that. Since Ezekiel said the angle of the sun would soon drop below the mountains anyway, we set up the fortress for the night. That way, if they want to contact us (like the wild men in the Pomarchj), they can find us…and if they want to attack us, we’ll have a defensible position.

I’ve swapped out for the ring of infravision, so I can help stand guard in the night (Ez took the light off the top of the fortress…it was a bit ostentatious for normal use).


Shortly before dawn, we heard a cacophony of yipping and howling, and right after Mikael came charging down from the top of the fortress, shouting and flapping his arms and calling to Donna. Raven and I dashed outside, but all we saw was the horses trying to break their bonds (and the new morning light really messes with infravision, by the way. I’m changing my mind about wanting to be an elf).
While Aliana calmed the horses, Mikael and I headed off in the direction the noises had come from (though not the direction Donna took off in), but all we found was Raven, who tried to flank the aggressors, whoever they were.

I took some time hunting for tracks, and found a veritable trampling of human-sized prints – shuffling behind bushes, creeping from cover to cover, that kind of thing. I think I spotted nearly a score of unique tracks, but there’s no sign of their owners now. (My current theory is they were were-hyenas, but that doesn’t tell us what they were doing. And I’m probably wrong anyway.)

Mikael flew off in bird form to find Donna, so that gave us plenty of time to make a plan. Ezekiel theorized there were two groups – one trying to contact us or steal our horses, and another group that scared them off. Raven thought they might be working with the giants – or at least might be like the pebble-planter in the Pomarchj, and could lead us to them.

Aliana agreed with me that our mission here is to fight giants, and our most direct lead is the ogre’s trail. Whether these interlopers are an oppressed neutral party, or third-party bandits preying on giants and adventurers alike, or something else, they seem to be a distraction from our main objective. If they’re really friendlies who want to meet us, they’ll figure it out.

In the meantime, the ogre’s trail isn’t getting fresher.


Mikael returned to us safe and sound, and he brought Donna. So all’s well.


Killed a band of orcs on the path. Apparently I need to practice fighting from horseback. They had a decent amount of electrum on them – were they also taking it back as tribute?\


Ezekiel and Mikael prepared spells for searching the surroundings. I guess they got tired of watching me crawl back and forth, scolding anyone who stepped in mud before I got there. Mikael says there’s no “civilization” within his radius of perception. Raven says Donna complained about always rushing past the nice, thick clumps of grass along our path.


Starday, 1 Reaping

Ezekiel says he has seen our path forward, and it leads due south. He scouted it in gaseous form this morning, and now we’ve been following it for a couple hours. He’s been telling Aliana mountaineering trivia, and she acts like she’s never heard such things from anyone before.


Today we reached the top of a pass, and found a stack of prepared boulders next to a small cave. Nobody was in the cave, but hill giants have left their mark, if you know what I mean. Must be some kind of guard post, though I don’t know why it’s not manned.

Mikael hadn’t prepared to melt rocks today, so Ezekiel put a “ward” on the top boulder that he says should deter anyone trying to use it as ammo.

Best news of all, there’s a heavily traveled path leading over the pass further south. Plenty of worn-down stones and giant impressions. We’ll see where it ends up.


The path descended until the mountains opened up to a long valley. The walls seem pock-marked with caves – the ones we’ve seen being small, without complications – while at the bottom of the path sits a wooden fortress. From here, we can’t see any windows…but we can definitely hear the booming voices and harsh laughter.

As night was falling, we found a cave that will just barely fit Donna. We’ll have a better chance of being small and unobserved if we leave the horses behind (and they and Donna won’t do so well inside a building, anyway). A mist is filling the valley, obscuring the fort and complicating the moonlight, so we won’t be able to scout until morning. The scouts will probably be Raven, and me (invisible).

Find the previous entry here.

Dead Diary…dark energy

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

As we continued following the line of the mountains south, we spotted some figures in the distance coming toward us – just fewer than a score, and much too big to be human. I also noticed they were grey-skinned, though, and Stone Giants are…shall we say, a big more “live and let live” than other giants. So I took Heiron and Lydia into a copse along the road, just in case, while encouraging Ezekiel to try parlaying with them.

When the group got closer to us, the leader – out in front – pulled a white sheet from the baggage and held it out. I didn’t catch all that he and Ezekiel said to each other, but they worked out that neither side was looking for a needless fight. Apparently, their tribe even heard of us specifically “through the stones” – which I hope is a good thing, but I’m not sure. Their leader (Ez called him “Thane Ogier”) said the lesser giants had been attacking the “little folk,” and there is a dark energy behind their actions. He couldn’t say if it was tied to the bubble in Istivin or not, but it seems we might not be on a side-quest after all.

I saw female and young Stone Giants in the group, and most of them were carrying bundles of some kind. They said they don’t want a part of the coming trouble. With how jumpy the patrols are these days, all we can do is wish them luck.

They even gave Raven a parting gift – a wheel of cheese big enough to roll a wagon. He says it’s the elusive flavor he’s been searching for since Hochoch, and seems excited. Nobody asked what kind of milk goes into it.

After that, the countryside continued empty and barren. Occasionally, we’d pass a dead ox or horse just lying in the field. The fields should surely be more tended at this time of the year…but the ones that are planted are full of weeds, kr trampled by large feet…and a few in the distance even looked burned (though Agnar said that was just my imagination…but he’s lower down, so he couldn’t see so well). The people who aren’t killed by giants will be hungrier this winter.

Some people find trouble, and some people make trouble for themselves. As evening was settling in, we came on a village that seemed strangely untouched by the giants. The people shot us looks as we headed toward the inn, but no one seemed to be in armor or uniform – and Ezekiel noticed the same thing. At the inn, the locals made room for us…but almost made a point of ignoring us.

The serving lady was friendly enough, telling Raven all about their specials, and telling Lydia about the wine selection. I wasn’t feeling so well, maybe because of the obnoxious group at the next table, where a big man had drunk too much.

What gives people the idea barmaids want to be fiancé to everyone in town? I’ve seen it in other places besides here – but I don’t usually feel like fighting an entire room of half-drunk men. (Oddly enough at the Welcome Wench, Master Osler kept a firm lid on inappropriate behavior.)

Neither here nor there, I guess… The big man grabbed the waitress one time when she was going by, and wouldn’t let her go. The two (former) Heironeans had just sprung from their chairs when Raven seemed to materialize on top of the man and escorted him politely to the door.

The server brought a wine bottle “on her,” though she looked scared or worried. She said the man was part of a gang under “Big Johann” and he’ll want revenge. One of the locals near us muttered something about, if Johann couldn’t find us, he’d find the rest of them. Then Aliana (standing up to her full height, and at times like that, it’s hard to remember she’s barely above four feet) announced he could find us in the center of town. And I decided that the prospect of trouncing bullies had done wonders for my appetite.

(The waitress couldn’t tell us much more about the town’s situation. She said they didn’t have much for the giants to steal, and most of the townsfolk had nowhere convenient to flee to. Maybe that’s part of the story.)

Anyway, we set up the fortress on the village green, and Ezekiel cast light up there (he doesn’t understand how shadows and glare work for archers…but the main point if it is so Johann Boy can find us) and Aliana got her horse and lance ready.

If they keep us waiting, at least the moons are pretty tonight.


Things got exciting when the ground started to vibrate, and from the other side of the green, huge shapes came out of the darkness. A voice yelled something about leveling the place – with a Frost Giant accent, if I’m not mistaken – and Heiron and I started launching arrows.

The ground shook, and a huge, hairy elephant (Mikael tells me it’s a mastadon) charged toward us with a giant on its back – only to slam into a stone wall that appeared out of nowhere. As the mastadon broke through the wall, ogres swarmed around it to attack Mikael and Agnar on the ground. Aliana charged the mastadon with her lance, while Ezekiel started flying somehow.

Lydia pitched an egg into the crowd – which took me back to our earlier days in the Temple of Elemental Evil – but naturally I mostly paid attention to my marksmanship. After Aliana and I took down the frost giant, most of the ogres were easy pickings. The last one fled, but Aliana, Raven, and Ezekiel chased him down to ask questions. I gather it went about as well as our questioning usually goes (Ezekiel said he used a potion to read the ogre’s mind, and now he wants to throw up), but Raven was able to talk to the mastadon (that Mikael charmed after it stomped on him a bit).

Agnar and I went through the bodies. The ogres had nothing but copper (call us privileged if you must, but we left that for the innkeeper)…but we did discover that guy from the tavern earlier was also with them. He had magic chainmail and a glowing sword, so I guess he wasn’t a push-over (I mean, depending on what you compare it to). The giant himself had a huge ax that Agnar tried to lift, but there’s no way any of us is wielding it.

Finally, we found an oxskin made up like a parchment, with big, rough runes and an “X” at the bottom. Lydia says it’s some kind of contract, or agreement, that says the undersigned promises to fight for “Jarl Grugnir.”

Ezekiel moved the fortress to outside town (we haven’t seen any people, but we feel we’ve made enough of an impression) and in the morning Raven says the mastadon (Mikael named her “Donna”) can take us to the “sleep place.” It seems reasonable this gang took their loot somewhere, since it wasn’t on their persons.

Was “Big Johann” milking this village in exchange for protection? Who knows. We can’t hold everyone’s hand all the time, and I think they have their own issues, apart from giants. But giants I can deal with. And now I really need to be sleeping.


By evening, we reached a cave at the foot of the mountains, easily reached from the plain south of the Davish. Smells like ogre, looks like ogre. No loot, though…so Raven questioned Donna further. Oh, one of the ogres took the treasure “away”… Mastadons don’t care about gold, apparently, and care even less about details (but she loves when Mikael magics up some goodberries and feeds her snacks).

I did find some traces of a lone ogre heading off into the mountains, but we’ll have to wait for morning light. Who is the boss of the bullies?


As we followed the trail of the ogre, we came across some strange boulders – that looked almost like they had been shaped with tools. Mikael asked me if they were magic, and when I asked Tressarian to check out the closest one, the boulders flung back like trapdoors, and hill giants leapt out.

Hill giants. It was not their day.

Once they were dead, we investigated the holes where they hid with ropes and levitation. Contrary to what I feared, we found several hundred pounds of silver and electrim coins, plus some magic crossbow quarrels (Raven was excited to get those), and a magic sword (Agnar said it was a blow-hard that told him it could detect invisibility so that it could kill things with him…but he didn’t see anything invisible. Maybe we should rethink having him carry all the extra swords…but how to put it to him?).

We also restocked our supply of rope, and found a cooking pot big enough for Bearington (not big enough for him to use, that is…). I assume the hill giants must have had that for their own use, rather than as loot from someone else…but clearly they’ve been robbing a lot of people. Patrols? Other independent contractors? Did they also have a secret base, or a boss, that they took their loot to? Their tracks don’t join with the ogre we’re following…so if they did work for the same people, they didn’t travel the same way. Maybe these hill giants were pirating off the other giant raiders, and that’s why they have so much money. Had so much money.

We talked Mikael out of putting wheels on the cookpot so Bearington could have his own coach, and continued on.

Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…standing orders

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

We tried out some of the magic rings from our attackers. One of the sketchy thief types had a gold ring – Ezekiel said it made him feel calm, but who knows what practical application that would have (Raven said he could think of a few). Another ring, Aliana called a “ring of faery” – but Mikael couldn’t get it to do anything. She says it has to be in tune with the wearer’s alignment to activate. Mikael, Agnar, and Lydia upgraded their rings of protection (Lydia didn’t even have one somehow, which must be an oversight), and Ezekiel took a sip of a potion that he said let him “look through our foreheads,” which sounds gross. He said he could tell something was going on in our heads, but not what was going on – he’d need a higher dose.


3 Richfest

Approaching Istivin, the weather has been toasty…but more than that, there’s a taste like a storm in the air. Raven said it reminded him of the blue fire in the dungeon below the stockade. It makes Mikael uncomfortable, too. Even from a distance, you can see the huge ebony sphere in the center of town. You can’t see it moving, but it sits there, swallowing light like something out of a nightmare.

The refugee lines along the road have disappeared – probably because everyone has already left. The only people we met were a patrol of Keoland guards, who seemed more at ease once we explained we were heading to the king’s agent to offer our services. The commander gave us directions, and before very late in the day, we rode up to Algrathas’ manor above the river and announced ourselves.

They ushered us into a room stuffed with expensive things, that somehow reminded me of our vault room at Haven…maybe because of all the different things pulled from various collections and adventures all stacked together.

For telling Klim where he could kill us, Master Algrathas seems like a nice enough well-to-do old man. (We got in a little private conversation with him, and he explained Klim just asked for his information services…without spilling his whole identity as a vengeful priest of the Earth Dragon. Ezekiel and Raven asked if he could “research” the identity and location of “E” for us, so perhaps we’ll get a useful lead there. If Master A isn’t on the up-and-up, then he’s been lying the whole time we’ve known him.)

As for the king’s agent overseeing this crisis, Master Lashton – we first met him yelling at Master Algrathas over something.

He made a political jab about the respect owed the king of Keoland by His Grace the Grand Duke (as Uncle might say, what century does he think he’s living in?) but finally gave us some actual information on the situation.

The black sphere appeared about a fortnight ago. No one knows what caused it, but the most popular theories are: demons; a “gift” from another country; a mis-guided magical experiment. As Aliana remarked after we left, that about covers the gambit.

Making matters worse, the giants from the Jotens are taking advantage of the confusion and panic, and mounting more and more raids on the land. They seem to be coordinated, so there must be some leaders of the giants urging them on.
Master Lashton said he was handling the bubble, so we could handle the giants…not in those words, exactly. He made a show of being too busy to explain further, then stood listening to his assistant explain we could start in the southern mountains, and we could keep any treasure we found (which was not something we were worrying about, but it makes the accounting much easier). Overall, he felt like Archie – but if Archie never did anything, maybe?

Before we crossed the river, Ezekiel and Lydia wanted to examine the sphere – confidence in Master Lashton’s magical competencies notwithstanding… They say that a stranger approaching the sphere will find it hard as rock, but a native of Sterich/Istivin can pass through it…only none of them have ever come out again.

The city looks like a war is approaching. Houses are boarded up everywhere, and once in a while we spotted a cart of belongings just abandoned by the refugees. The pressure builds in your head, with a smell like a storm, but without rain. It’s a wonder we didn’t all get headaches.

As for the sphere itself… Tressarian said he could smell Evil and magic on it, but Fetafencer didn’t think it was demonic. So no luck trying to banish it. The surface looks like a ball of yarn – a myriad various cords crossing and recrossing each other into the heart of the sphere…but the surface is very much solid like stone (Raven tossed a pebble at it, and it bounced off with a clatter). It doesn’t twitch or move – it just sits there (though they tell us from measurements that it is growing).

Ezekiel took Aliana gaseous with him to examine it from the air. About that time, a patrol came by to tell us to move along – that too many people were lost inside the sphere already. So we headed south…and Ezekiel tells us he couldn’t penetrate the surface even as a gas (I think Aliana thinks that’s just as well).

South of the Davish River, it looks like a war is here. We didn’t even see a patrol – though that doesn’t mean they never come by. Leaving Istivin, even the fields and cottages outside it are abandoned.

The first people we saw were a patrol on the southern road, several hours after we left the city. Their commander sounded tired – in his manner more than his tone – and said there were raids and attacks all along the mountain range. He also said the commander for the counter-offensive is the king’s agent back outside Istivin…which is ridiculous. You can’t handle a major offensive like this from a command post a day’s ride behind the lines. At the very least, there should be lieutenants coordinating the response on the front lines…but it sounds like every company’s commander is more-or-less on his own. No wonder he sounded stressed.

We noticed the riderless horses at the back, and the captain recommended we burn any fallen…he says there are more than giants in these hills. That would be right up Ezekiel’s alley – but first things first.

Dear Diary…haunted by the past

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

[smudge] Richfest

The farther from the Starkmounds we come into Keoland, the stranger things become. All day we’ve passed a stream of people headed the other direction, pushing carts, riding wagons, or just walking – bundles of their valuables on their backs.

When we asked them what the trouble was, we got incomplete answers. Some said giants were attacking all over Keoland. Others said that, with the absence of the earl, the bandits had just become too bad – and they were moving in with relatives in Geoff.

One man went on and on about dark sorcery in Istivin, and said the earl turned himself into a dark bubble that swallowed the city. Ezekiel asked if I took notes, but I’m not sure we can trust half what that guy said – even if his voice never changed pitch. I mean, he wasn’t dressed like a courtier, so how would he know what the earl was up to secretly? And what did whining about the music that bards sing these days have anything to do with it?


The clouds have been lowering all day, and the rain finally broke shortly before we entered a little village with one inn. (Mikael very disappointed that we had no enemies to smite with lightning.) We didn’t see much as we rode in, but from the looks of the common room, the place is largely deserted. It’s basically us and the innkeeper’s family; everyone else has evacuated, joining the stream we saw along the road. Not sure how long he’ll be able to keep the doors open this way – everything’s pretty threadbare and polished-by-time.

Just as well the inn was basically empty… We weren’t ready to turn in yet, when suddenly the door crashed open with a howl of the wind. A man with shield, mace, and armor stood in the doorway, lashed by rain, and bellowed, “At last you will pay for your interference.”

As he started chanting something else, Aliana drew Fetifencer (who didn’t glow red), Ezekiel said, “Shush!” and Mikael made buzzing noises with his mouth. Raven and Aliana charged the attackers in the doorway – a second man joined the first, his cloak drawn over his face as he made incantory gestures with his hands – and I fitted my shield on my arm as Tressarian and I appraised the flank.

The shutters were closed, naturally, to keep out the storm – but now someone started hacking them open with axes, one after the other, and bowman stood at the windows – just visible in the firelight – to launch arrows at us.

Agnar dashed past me, and I headed for the nearest bowman. As I went, someone nailed Ezekiel with an arrow; it didn’t penetrate his armor, but it did lodge in a joint, oozing darkly. That’s all I saw in passing – then I engaged the bowman just outside the window.

I’m not sure he was prepared for that, and he left himself pretty open. He did retreat, but not very far, and I scrambled over the sill and caught up with him. The light from the windows – even leaking through the rain – was still enough to take him down (though the cover of my shield slipped a little, sending a beam of light out into the village).

I conveniently remembered the back door of the inn was around the corner, and peeked back there.

Two shifty characters stood there, clearly up to no good…but I didn’t think I could take them both out without one of them escaping. So I went back to the window and whistled for Heiron’s attention, and then he ran over to distract them from the door-side so I could block them from the road-side.

By the time we got out there, the ne’r-do-wells had slipped around the corner – but they hadn’t outright disappeared…which I consider strange, given the clanging and banging and shouting coming from the inn.

Heiron told them to yield – but they were about as saucy and unyielding as you can get…and then they were dead. We dragged them through the back door to get out of the rain (and for easier examination) to find Ezekiel checking on us, and the innkeeper’s family (safely hiding in the cellar; his kid was not of the type who would want to see a severed head again and again).

We searched the dead for anything useful, and then piled them in the stable for tidiness’ sake (Lydia offered to burn them in the morning, which saves us digging). Their leader (the one who yelled so cryptically) had interesting armor: his helmet had an ugly mask painted on it, while his breastplate had an eye inside a triangle worked into the metal. It was hard to tell, though, because the symbol of the Earth Dragon was painted over the top. Did he steal the armor? Or was it a hand-me-down?

Under his helmet was even more surprising. I didn’t recognize him, but Ezekiel knew it was Solmon Klim, the cleric who was one of the Slave Lords, and obviously escaped the island blowing up somehow. So I guess the Earth Dragon still deigned to give him spells…

Ez and Lydia went over the papers from his belongings (including a letter she had to translate with magic) while the rest of us investigated the others: two shady, leather-wearing types; the dark spell-caster who also had a battle ax and longsword (I didn’t notice whether he was an elf or not); a couple fighters-for-hire; and about four archers (yes, with poisoned arrows. We disposed of those quickly). Also a pack of giant spiders – but the shadowy character had them on leashes, so hard to say if they were his “friends” or merely his “dogs of war” (Mikael was very sad they all died). It’s possible these people all had ties to the Slave Lords – or to the Slave Lords’ bosses – but even Ezekiel doesn’t recognize anyone but Klim.

As for the letters… One was written in fancy script, ordering the recipient to atone for his “failure” by bringing them the “heads of our enemies,” and signed merely “E.” The last pile of letters from “E” is in the vault back in the mountains, so we can’t check the handwriting to see if they’re the same. I’m beginning to wonder if “E” applies to a collection of people, and not just one mastermind. Another letter (the one Lydia had to read) talked about “consternation in the noble houses” (Heiron asked if that was like dysentary) and “Her” displeasure leading to “the death of the others.” It also mentioned a place in Flen (which is a town in eastern Istivin) where the recipient can rendezvous if “operations” have to close down.

Ezekiel suspects the helpful notes and trail markers we got in the Pomarchj were from “E” because she/they were closing down the Sudderheim operation – by letting us tear it down. Which raises the question, what failure was being punished? It couldn’t be the failure of letting us destroy the tavern and Marquessa’s place, could it?

Raven wonders how Markessa’s experiments fit in to all this. I remember that the Spider-Queen is a “she,” and Marquessa’s stockade was cooperating with the Underdark…but I haven’t mentioned it to Ezekiel. He’s paranoid enough right now. Raven says that stealing a whole city would take powerful magic. Who has arms long enough to pull the strings of the Slave Lords?

The last note said something like, “You will find your enemies in Geoff – so says Algrathus the Seer.” Someone more tactful than I can bring that up when we see him…that’s the house where the king’s agent is staying. (I put the ring of truth back on.)