Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 136

Gytha put her hand to the scout's chest, it did not seem to move, she thought he might be dead. He started, Derue's hands strained at the ropes which bound them. Flashing, angry eyes glared up at Gytha, but the fire in them died and a gleam of recognition took its place.

"Are you injured?" she asked him.

He breathed deeply, but even the filling of his lungs was restricted by the rope wrapped about his chest.

"Didn't you hear the falling stones or feel the rumbling?" Gytha shook her head in wonder.

Derue closed his eyes. He tried to rise, but just rocked back and forth. There was a slow, careful deliberation to his movements. The rope gave a little and he slipped his shoulder beneath a loop.

"Let me help," Gytha tried to untie the knot, but Harald had tied it with a ranger's skill. It tangled and the rope snarled badly around the knot, twisting hopelessly.

As she worked Derue kept up the movement of his back and shoulders, another loop slipped over his head. He squirmed and shed his bonds like a snake leaving behind a covering of skin. There were wounds around his wrists, places where the flesh had been rubbed away, they bled. Each attempt to free himself had cost Derue a layer of skin and a small quantity of blood.

"You're hurt again," Gytha touched the scout's injured wrists lightly. "I have a knife in my pack. I will cut you free, don't try anymore," she glanced at the blood-soaked rope and he followed her eyes, "you will only hurt yourself more."

He nodded and stood unmoving while she went to find her pack and retrieve a knife.


"Gytha!" Ghibelline called out then broke into a painful cough. Each heave sent lancing pain through the elf's chest and he doubled over with his arms wrapped tightly around his aching ribs.

"Help me Telenstil, she might be injured."

"Stay here." Telenstil commanded. "I will go and find her."

"Go then," the wood-elf gasped, "I'll stay here, go."

Telenstil left him behind, it was only a short way across the hall to where she had lain. The floor was covered with stones fallen from the roof. A glance up at the vaulting ceiling showed cracks running from pillar to pillar. The statues themselves appeared untouched, protected no doubt by the enchantment which had been placed on them and still lingered after countless years.

"Gytha!" Telenstil called as he neared the small fire. He did not see her at first, his eyes were fixed on the motionless scout. A dagger appeared in his hand unbidden by his conscious mind, a spell was on his lips. "Gytha," he called louder and concerned.

"I'm here," she called back, "I'm fine. Where's Ghibelline?" she demanded.

"Good," said Telenstil relieved. "Good, you were not injured?"

"Where is Ghibelline?" Gytha abandoned the pack she'd been searching.

"A stone hit him," Telenstil began but saw the fearful look that came over the cleric's face, he raised his hand, "wait, he is hurt, yes, but I think not badly. Go to him, near the pit, on this side of the chamber."

She looked out into the dark. "Take me to him. I will need a light."

"Take a torch," Telenstil pointed to the fire, "there were some laid by, they should be there. What of him?" he asked looking at Derue.

"His wrists are hurt," Gytha said as she rushed to the fire. She brushed away dirt and debris that covered a small pile of wood and finally found a cloth wrapped branch.

"Derue," Telenstil walked to the scout and looked him in the eyes. The evil madness was gone, now there was only a deep sad emptiness.

* * *

Light surrounded them as they traveled the dark corridor. The amulet which Talberth wore and the spell-enchanted torch that Harald carried burned with unnatural brightness, unflickering, fueled by magic. Ivo slowed them down. The old gnome was as strong and enduring as stone, but his short legs could not keep up with those of the two humans, both tall even for their kind.

"Leave me," he told them. "I'll catch up, go see what has happened.

" Hah," Talberth snorted. "Would you let me stay when I wanted? No! I am not letting you stay behind now."

"He's right," Harald agreed. "I can carry you." The ranger had Little Rat slung over one broad shoulder, the young orc's head and arms swinging back and forth with every step. The weight of the bone-thin youth was nothing to the man; the pack Harald had left behind weighed several times as much.

"Good," the thief said. "I'm tired of all this walking."

"I wasn't talking to you," Harald glared down.

"Ivo let him carry you," said Talberth.

The old gnome grimaced. "Quite undignified. Harold I trust that you will not include this in your stories."

"But Ivo this is such a grand idea," smiled the halfling, "humans to ride, much better than ponies."

"Maybe we should just drag you behind," Harald smiled back, "I'm sure we have some rope." 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 135

A rumble growled down the corridor, Talberth braced himself against the wall beside him. He could feel the vibration that thrummed through the stone. It passed quickly but a faint sound like the blows of hammers echoed faintly from ahead.

"What was that?" asked Talberth. "An oerthquake?"

"No," Ivo shook his head. "That was the fall of stone. Something large and heavy, listen you can still hear the fall of lighter rock."

"If this place is caving in..." Talberth looked toward the ceiling.

"We are safe enough," Ivo patted the wall. "But we need to get back to the others."

"Let's hope that we still have a way out," said Harold.

* * *

The stones had stopped falling, but a patter of dirt and small fragments of rock no bigger than pebbles continued to drop down. Telenstil ended the spell he'd cast with a small sweeping gesture of his hand. Blood dripped from cuts under his eye and along his chin. A small needle of rock had clipped his nose and left a gash across the tip. The wounds bled furiously but none were deep, instead they were long, as if a razor had been drawn back and forth over his skin. Telenstil wiped his face with the back of his hand; it came away wet and red.

"You're hurt," Ghibelline said. He tried to rise but gasped in pain and fell back.

"No, you seem to be," said Telenstil. "This is just a little blood."

"My side..." Ghibelline pushed himself up while Telenstil reached out and helped him to his feet.

* * *

There were clouds and she was floating among them. Below her she could see the hills, the thick woods pressed against them, the mountains growing up toward the west. The mountains were higher than the sky, they blocked the moons and their tops were set afire by the passing sun. Gytha swooped low, the hills came rushing up. There were houses now, a small village set along a plateau, a pool at its center fed by a mountain stream. One house was bigger than the rest, it was nothing more than a large square building of stone, but it was easily four or five times the size of even the next largest home. She smiled; this building was her people's pride, their gift to their deity and the cleric who had brought the faith to them centuries ago.

The roof, tiled with plates of thin, fired clay, parted like mist as she dived lower and passed within. There was a choking smoke that seeped through the shuttered windows; the room was filled with it. There was the smell of burnt wood and burnt flesh, the tang of blood and strongest of all, the smell of fear. The room was filled with the injured, men, women, children, all those from the village and the surrounding lands. Gytha reached out and tried to touch them but her hand passed through as her body had passed the wood and tile of the roof. They seemed real, the cries of pain, the children's fearful whimpering, the coughing as the smoke increased. Fire was all around, in her mind's eye Gytha could see the village as it burned, the huge shapes of giants setting home after home ablaze with torches made from the trunks of trees. The monsters circled the building of stone; it looked small to her now. The thick stone walls and stout doors of oak banded with iron, they seemed no more than straw and children's toy-blocks beside the horrible strength and terrible size of the giants.

She knew what was to come and tried to close her eyes but they would not shut. The people began to wail, her flock, her friends, her kin, this was Gytha's village, or a dream-ghost of what it had been and how it met its end. The walls shook, there was a booming as the giants used clubs against the stone or tore boulders from the fence and threw them at the church. Oak boards shattered as the doors were splintered and sent flying into the villagers. A few men and women armed with spears and axes pushed the others back and faced the giants. One brute reached through the door then pulled back a hand that's finger had been hacked away with a desperate stroke. It put the bleeding joint to its lips and ducked its head and shoulders back outside. Stones rolled in as the giants played a game of ninepins and bowled down the defenders. Gytha could hear the laughter of the monsters as they sent boulders through the church to crush legs and pulp bodies of those who could not avoid the brutal stones. There was a shout and the booming began once more. Gytha held up her hands and screamed as the rafters collapsed and the roof came crashing down.

In an instant she was awake; a violent jolt had thrown her from her bed made of cloaks and packs. Stones bounced down around her and she was living her dream again. This time she did not scream, but Gytha looked wildly about for the villagers she had not helped in life and could not save even in her dreams. There were cold stone pillars all around, a tiled floor scratched a thousand times beneath, and only a small fire to light the dark. Near to where she had lain there was a body, Derue. The memory of the villagers faded, though they would never leave her completely, and the more recent past came back into her mind. What was that booming, she thought? Where are the others? 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 134

A spark of greenish light danced within the carven pillars. It ran down the spine of a dragon whose head braced the ceiling stone, then followed a pattern of tiles till it reached the base of a fire giant bringing brief color to the grey rock. When it reached the eyes a red gleam awoke but faded as the spark ran past. There were cracks that radiated out from a hole broken in the roof. A block of rough stone wedged the gap shut and time had locked it in place as if it had been set there on purpose by a conscious hand.

Circling like a leaf caught in a whirlwind the spark jumped around the web of cracks. It flared as it leapt through the air, a sharp smell of brimstone and a puff of smoke followed its path. The spark touched the outstretched fingers of a storm giant and swam down the side of the statue.

Telenstil's nose twitched, the brimstone smell wafted down through the still air. The elf had been in deep thought examining the stone ogre that had been animated and seemed to obey his command, but the sharp scent brought his attention back to the chamber and the statues which surrounded him.

"Do you smell that?" asked Ghibelline.

"Yes," Telenstil answered. "It is very faint. Up there," he pointed to the ceiling.

They could see nothing. Rings of pillars blocked their view, a forest of statues each depicting some huge beast or monster running from the floor to the roof. The two elves walked slowly toward the center of the room, but the smell became weaker dissipating even as they approached its source. There was a sound, Telenstil put out his hand and Ghibelline halted beside him. Their footsteps were almost silent on the tiled floor but some small faint noise was nearly masked by them. Stone scraping against stone, that was the sound. It came from high up toward the roof and to their right. Both elves could see the tiny glow but they still could not see what made the noise.

Telenstil gestured, the movement of his hands and fingers cutting through the air like an ingot of molten iron leaving a momentary trail of haze behind. "Lo-Ta No-Tu," he said and pointed toward the spark of light.

It was like a tiny sun erupting from the dark; the eye of a spreading lacework of power that spread down the side of the pillar. Now they could see what made the grinding noise, it was the statue pulling fingers loose from the ceiling high above. The blaze of magic revealed by Telenstil's spell lit the stone arm like a burning tree, its branches in full flame while tongues of fire licked down its sides.

 "Something has awoken," said Telenstil.

"Can you control it?" asked Ghibelline, alarmed.

"I will try," Telenstil put out his hand; he whispered a word in a tongue that Ghibelline could not understand. "Ker-Zer," he said and placed his hand against the pillar. A line of glowing fire flowed down from the spark; it ran inside of the stone and burst from the spot that Telenstil's hand touched. White light flared and the green line was snuffed out in a fury of sparks. A splinter of stone sheared away from the statue and a shower of debris came falling from the roof. The statue shuddered and its upper body twisted free from the pillar.

"Ker-Zer!" Telenstil shouted. The stone exploded beneath his hand, the fragments shot to either side and a crack like thunder echoed across the hall. Above them the giant turned at the waist but its lower half did not move. It split in half and as the two elves watched it began to tilt and slowly fall, both stony arms reaching out radiating a green light, an intense blazing mote at its heart.

* * *

Ghibelline threw himself against Telenstil and dragged him around the side of the pillar as the statue fell. It struck like an avalanche, stone shattering the tiles and breaking apart under its own massive weight. The boom was deafening, the floor shook; a nearby pillar shifted on its pedestal and a rain of rock and stone came down.

A bouncing chunk of granite knocked Ghibelline from his feet; it caught him in the side and sent him tumbling. Telenstil was stung by a spray of knife-edged fragments from the shattered tiles. The wounds were minor, Ghibelline's side felt as if sharp needles had been driven along his ribs but his skin was not even broken. The blow left a large black bruise edged with brown and fading to yellow where the stone had struck.

There was only a moment to react, Telenstil crouched above Ghibelline and called upon the power of his ring. "Fa-Er To-Re," he commanded in ancient Suel. A globe of power surrounded them, in the dark it could not be seen, clear as glass but stronger than steel. As the stones rained down they rebounded from the curved perimeter of the spell and landed to either side of the elves.

The torso of the giant landed near the center of the room covering a pit whose depths were swallowed by darkness. One arm broke off at the massive golem's shoulder, half the head was blasted away by the impact with the floor. There had been a passage beneath the chamber. It had ended in an open door emptying into the pit a man's height down from the edge. As the floor lifted from the impact the roof of the passage caved in, the torso of the giant slid shoulder first catching between the doorframe then tearing free. The frame was ripped from the sides of the opening and followed the severed golem as it smashed from side to side falling into the dark. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 133

"How do we know it's you?" demanded Harold.

"How do I know it is really you two?" Talberth replied sarcastically. "This is pointless, Harald put down that sword."

"You're just trying to confuse things," Harold complained. "What happened to you? Where's Ivo?"

As if summoned by his name Ivo stepped through the portal still holding the silver wire that the ranger had let fall. Blinded by the mist he walked into Talberth and made him jump. With a flick of his wrist Harald moved the tip of his sword aside; the point was only inches away from Talberth's chest. The cloth of the mage's robe pressed against the sword's keen edge and split as did the soft shirt underneath.

"Ouucch!" Talberth's hand flew to his chest and his fingers came away wet with blood. "Watch it!" he yelled at Harald.

"Sorry," Harald apologized as he lowered his sword.

"What are you three playing at?" asked Ivo. He stepped around Talberth's legs and scowled at them all.

"Is this Talberth?" the little thief asked Ivo.

"Of course it is Talberth, and I'm me and you're you," Ivo rebuked him. "Now let us get back to the others."

"But Ivo," said Talberth, "there is so much here that we need to explore."

"Too much," Ivo replied. "What we need is rest, and a place of safety. This ruin provides us with neither I'd say."

"We are safe enough now," Talberth insisted, though his hand touched the hole in his short and the drying trickle of blood from the scratch beneath. "Now that I know what to say, the skeleton's and the wraith will lis..."

"Wraith!" Harold squeaked out alarmed.

"Do not worry, I talked with it. It obeyed my commands," Talberth said to Harold but he looked from face to face, "really we are perfectly safe."

"We need to talk with Telenstil first," said Ivo. "Talberth you were supposed to return if you found anything."

"Well I would have," Talberth said slightly annoyed, "but I was knocked out and manacled, I didn't get the chance."

"Before such a chance as that happens again let us be off and back to the others." insisted Ivo. "Harold, go collect your shadow."

"Little Rat," Harold's eyebrows rose, "if he's gone to sleep..."

"But Ivo we are safe," Talberth's voice had a pleading tone.

"Talberth you know better than that," Ivo shook his head. "And even if we are safe, what of the others?" the old gnome held up his hand to silence Talberth's objections. "Save your arguments for Telenstil. We are leaving; do you want to abandon us to search this ruin?"

"No, no," said Talberth. "This place is powerful, I know it."

"I do not doubt that," Ivo agreed.

"We may be the first people here in a thousand years," Talberth mused.

"These skeletons are still lively," said Harald. The ranger lashed out with his boot and sent a pile of bones clattering across the floor.

"A thousand years... then the time it takes to complete our task against the giants will be very short compared to that," Ivo said to Talberth.

"I will be back," Talberth said to the ancient walls.

"Ivo," Harold half dragged the young orc along, "do you have magic to help him. He wants to sleep and I'm having trouble keeping him awake."

"I'll carry him," offered the ranger.

"Here," said Ivo, he took a small pouch from his belt and opening it waved the contents back and forth beneath Little Rat's nose. The orc's eyes opened wide and he gave a huge sneeze, Ivo rescued his pouch just in time, pulling it away with a quick move of his hand.

"Smell bad," Little Rat complained and sneezed three times, one after another. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 132

The chilling cold lasted only a fraction of a second, but Ivo shivered as if doused with an icy wave that soaked him to the bone. His hand stuck to the silver wire he held. Carefully he peeled it from the palm of his hand so that none of his flesh came away with the metal. "Back again," he said to himself.

The chamber appeared the same, two mist-filled doors, one to either side; the floor crisscrossed with lines, lengths of silver wire showing where they had risen from the cracks. Ivo was glad that the magic of the portal was playing no tricks on them. There were problems enough for a lifetime just dealing with the giants, they needed no more distractions only a place of rest and safety. So far they had found only trouble and mysteries that they did not need and had no time to solve.

He pulled on the wire signaling the others that he was safe and about to return. A step took him into the mist, his long nose touching the swirling surface, but a voice called out and stopped him.

"Ivo!" Talberth exclaimed, surprised but very pleased.

"Talberth!" Ivo let the silver wire slip from his hand. "Where have you been?" a note of caution crept into the old gnome's voice. His fingers flexed suddenly aware that he had dropped the wire. With reflexes that belied his age Ivo snagged the silver strand just before it disappeared into the mist.

* * *

"This place is amazing," there was a childlike wonder in Talberth's voice. "Ivo, these enchantments must be from the days of the imperium."

"Evil days," Ivo said. He pulled hard on the silver wire several times and waited for a reply. Strong hands dragged at the metal strip from the other side of the mist.

"We must explore, there is so much to discover here," Talberth went on not listening to the gnome.

"That will be up to Telenstil to decide," Ivo told him. "We are not here to search ruins. Remember that Talberth. I'm going back to get the others you stay here." Ivo looked over at the mage. Talberth had turned away, he examined the door-frame that surrounded the reddish mist as Ivo watched and did not say a word. "You're not listening. Talberth!" Ivo shouted.

"What?!" the mage spun, startled by the call, he had drawn an enchanted wand from his sleeve quick as a back-alley thug might draw a knife and held it ready, a word of activation on his lips.

"Come here, I'm not leaving you behind," said Ivo wagging a finger at the mage. "We will go through here and collect the others."

"That is the way I went," Talberth said, "well, that is where I was thrown, but it was through there that the skeletons caught me."

"Yes, we had the same encounter," said Ivo. "Harald made short work of them."

"They should listen to me now," Talberth shook his head. "If only I'd realized what they were saying at the time. They were trying to talk, I'm not sure what they tried to say but they were speaking ancient Suel no doubt."

"They are still rattling about," Ivo lead him to the mist, "we can let one pull itself together and you can talk with it all you like."

"I don't want to..." Talberth objected.

"Nonsense," said Ivo as the old gnome nudged him through the doorway and into the mist.

* * *

"Curse it, what is Ivo doing?" Harald complained.

"It's that portal, hells," muttered Harold. The halfing gnawed at his thumbnail in frustration. "We couldn't find some cave, no, we had to come here. I hate ruins, I hate the woods, I hate the stinking giants. When we get out of here I'm going back to Greyhawk and I'm not leaving it again."

"Wait," Harald felt the silver wire shift in his hand, "something is happening, I'm getting a signal from Ivo." The ranger stumbled back and a good length of wire came through the mist. "What is he playing at, there's the signal again. Harold stop complaining and grab your knife, there is something strange going on."

"You drop that wire and grab your sword," Harold told him.

"I'm not letting go till we find out what happened to Ivo," Harald replied, but he shifted the wire to his left hand and balanced his claymore as best he could in his right. Three strong tugs were placed on the silver strip and Harald gave back two short pulls. "That is the signal, he's coming through."

"That's not Ivo," yelled the halfling.

Harald let the wire slip from his hand and grabbed the hilt of his sword with both. "Talberth!" he exclaimed as he brought the blade back and prepared to strike.

"Wait!" it was the halfling's turn to yell. "How do we know it's Talberth. Where is Ivo?"

"Don't move," Harald warned and brought his arm back again.

"Don't be stupid," Talberth put up his hands as if to ward off the huge steel blade. "It's me! It's me!" 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Component Review - Halo Fleet Battles

I've picked up $100 games before and the quality of the box and components of Halo Fleet Battles is a bad joke in comparison. The cardboard box is thinner than a cereal box. It isn't strong enough to even hold the weight of the contents without bending and deforming if you pick it up with one hand. The ships are 6 medium sized sprues and you get six sprues of plastic stands. These are average quality plastic and fairly thin. I can see broken ship parts in the future. The counters are like the box, super thin and easy to bend. Even the scenario book has a thin paper cover and the main rulebook is bound like a graphic novel.

I don't know about gameplay; it may be fantastic, but the box and components would be disappointing at even half the price. Big thumbs down for the quality, price and value of this game.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Free Book (You pay postage) Nine Princess in Amber

Free Book (You pay postage - USA Shipping Only) Nine Princess in Amber by Zelazny

This is a used reading copy but it is complete. If you'd like it please leave a message in the comments.