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 fiancĂ© 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.)