CAS

CAS

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Trampier from Polyhedron #5


The people kind of remind me of Wormy style trolls.

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 141



"Telenstil, can we fly from here?" asked Ivo. 

"Not yet," he shook his head. "Not all of us, no. I have the power for a spell or two but not the ring. I've drawn upon it too much, it needs to rest and recover its strength." 

"I will hide us then," said Ivo. "Do not leave the clearing, the spell is very powerful but it has its limits." 

"Not invisibility," moaned Harold. "Last time I was nearly stepped on." 

"Stop complaining," said the ranger, he gave the little halfling a small nudge with his boot. 

"I will weave us into the spell and make this camp appear as if we were not here and had never even passed this way," Ivo explained. "Now to the edges of the camp, move if you have to but stay as still as possible." 

"How long will this last?" asked Talberth. 

"As long as I wish," Ivo murmured already forming the picture of the clearing in his mind. 

The old gnome took a small crystal from his pack, uncut, its sides were rough and cloudy. He held it between both hands and rubbed it in his palms. There were words, but the others could not make out what he said, they came as if from far away like the echo of a voice heard faintly in a deep cavern. Ivo brought his hands up so that they were even with his eyes and still rubbing one against the other began to pull them apart. A glimmer of light appeared, he kept up the motion of his hands as if they were still one against the other but drew them away. The crystal had transformed, now it looked to be a glimmering cube, one corner pointing toward the oerth while it spun slowly like a top. 

In a flashing burst of light the crystal was gone, the clearing took on a double image for a moment. All was the same but layered over one with another, the same camp but empty, a blank space where each companion stood. This double vision sent a sharp pain through the viewer's eyes till Ivo approached and tapped them on the arm or side, one by one. 

"See what is true," he told them and the illusion disappeared. "Rest assured, the wolves and giants will see, smell and hear what I wish them to, all their senses will be deceived." 

"They better be," whispered Harold. 

* * * 

The first of the wolves reached the campsite all too soon. It was a large beast the size of a pony. One ear had been split, and scars and missing fur dotted its head and muzzle. The beast strolled into the camp as if it owned the place, lifting its leg and marking a large tree stump with its scent. Rounding the edges of the clearing it passed by first one then another of the group, close enough so that its fur brushed Talberth's leg. The young mage froze in place, his knuckles white on the hilt of a dagger in his belt. The wolf stopped and scratched at the spot where its fur had been ruffled then bent its neck back and worried at it with bared teeth. It rolled over like a puppy then and with legs in the air squirmed back and forth in the dirt. Rising, it shook itself, spraying its unseen foes with a shower of pebbles. With a large red tongue lolling from the side of its mouth, the wolf strode to the fire-pit. Snapping jaws tore ribs from the carcase that had been left behind. It settled down on its stomach, holding up a grisly bone between two paws and gnawed, stripping away what little flesh was left then grinding noisely till the rib cracked beneath its teeth. 

* * * 

There was a clatter on the stony path, half a dozen wolves came gambling into the clearing. They turned from the trail and crashed together, gangly as puppies, yipping and yowling, biting and nipping at one another. A deep-throated growl from the grizzled pack leader sent the others slinking and whining. One small fellow rolled on his back so that his white-haired belly was up in the air while his tongue lolled from the side of his mouth. The older wolf walked over, proud and stately as any king and placed his paw on the younger wolf's belly then opened his jaws wide and yowled. The whole pack replied and an answering cry came from above. The small wolf gave forth a gurgling response but the paw on his stomach hampered his attempt. A nip from the pack leader as he took his paw away sent the small wolf scrambling to his feet. All seven of the wolves formed into a semi-circle that faced the path, the largest, the old pack leader, at the center. 

More wolves came running down the path, but these turned gracefully and entered the clearing at a slow walk. These new arrivals were as black as soot and had eyes to match. None were bigger than the smallest of the grey-coated wolves, but there were a good deal more in number. Just one short of two dozen, the black-coated wolves filled the trail. 

One small wolf, half the size of the old grey leader, walked slowly into the clearing and stood facing the seven larger wolves. The pack leader of the greys slowly approached the small black wolf, then stopped suddenly, its muzzle only inches from the other wolf's nose. 

The two stared eye to eye for several moments while the wolves to either side swayed on their feet, some letting their tongues hang loose or turning their ears one way or another, but never moving from their place. Finally the black lowered its head and put its nose almost to the ground. The old grey put out its paw and almost seemed to tap, once, on the black wolf's head. The effect was like a thunderclap. The greys and blacks broke out into a jubilant cacophony of howls and barks. The two leaders sat back on their haunches while their packmates greeted each other head to tail then burst into races across the clearing. 

Hidden from the senses of the wolves the companions grimaced and clenched the hilt of a weapon, or muttered a prayer, or cowered slightly, (Little Rat was not alone in this) or kept the components of a spell at hand. All unseen, unheard and unsmelt. But only Ivo paid the wolves no mind. The old gnome kept up a sub-vocal chant as he weaved his spell. His thoughts enrapt with  what he wanted the spell to show and only vaguely aware of the wolves around him. The powerful illusion masked the humans, elves, halfling and orc, so much so that one wolf who skittered across the stones into the large ranger's legs, never even thought to look to see what it had hit. 

The wolves played, though fights of a more serious nature broke out here and there, only to be met with growls and snapping teeth from one pack leader or the other. Then without warning they all became still and silence flowed back into the clearing from where it had been chased by the rambunctious wolves. 

* * * 
        
Voices could be heard raised in song. Deep and booming, they
echoed down the hill, across the valley floor and reverberated from the stony slopes of the neighboring heights.

        "A snapping bow!" sang out a powerful voice.
        "A burning flame!" came the response from a dozen throats.
        "A grinning wolf!" the single voice sang back.
        "A grunting boar!" the chorus of voices replied.
        "A raucous crow!"       "A rootless tree!"
        "A breaking wave!"      "A boiling kettle!"
        "A flying arrow!"       "An ebbing tide!"
        "A coiled adder!        "The ice of a night!"

        Over the tops of trees and the edge of rock could be seen a
monstrous shaggy head. A giant with a mane of hair like a lion's and a beard that was long as any dwarve's, its end stuck in his belt. This giant was all red-brown and grey, his skin dusky like
oerth dried in the sun and his teeth broad and yellow. He opened his mouth wide and a rumbling bass flowed out.
        
"A bride's bed-talk!" he sang.

        More shaggy heads appeared behind him, though none as tall as their leader. Side by side in pairs they came, singing out a reply in chorus.

        "A broad sword!" they chanted back.
        "A bear's play!" the bass voice resonated through the air.

        The black-coated wolves came forward and the grey's drew back. Their leader paced across the stones and his pack followed. They waited near the entrance to the trail for their master's to arrive.

        A full dozen giants followed the tall elder warrior. He
carried an axe of blackened steel and iron, and swung it from
hand to hand as he walked, though its haft was the height of a man and the head heavy as an anvil.
        
Those that followed carried weapons in their hands. Axes like
that of their chief, swords with blades longer than the haft of a spear, spears tall as trees and hammers that no man could hope to lift. On their shoulders were set the ends of poles, linking one giant with his brethren following behind, the two in tandem. Heavy sacks bowed these lengths of wood, but the giants did not seem to mind their burden. Their voices showed no strain as they chorused their response.

        "A Chieftain's children!" the verse rang out, a dozen voices
strong.
        "A witch's welcome!"    "The wit of a slave!"
        "A sick calf!"          "A corpse still fresh!"
        "A brother's killer!"   "A hall half-burned!"
        "A racing wolf who has wrenched a leg!" the giant chief bellowed into the clearing, as he stepped from the trail. "Are never safe."

        "Let none trust them!" his dozen followers finished with a
shout.

        "Konig!" the chieftain called to the black-coated wolves.

        With slow and even strides, the packleader walked over to his master and lay down before the giant's feet.

        "I see that some of Karnash's pups have met you here," the giant said to his wolf. "Big." he commented in a loud voice, then turned his head to the giants behind him, "But stupid."

        *                       *                       *

"Ho! The camp! Hvedrung!" a voice boomed from the lower path. "Hvedrung!" 

The grey wolf bounded toward the entrance of the trail, the rest of the grey pack yipped and howled, but did not move. 

"What was that noise!" the deep, rough voice bellowed. "Fjolver! Is that you and your boys singing, or is that a moose caught in a trap?" a giant called, as he stepped into view from the lower trail. 

"Hlebard!" yelled back the old giant, the master of the black wolves. "Your pups have been waiting for you. But no need to worry!" laughed Fjolver. "My wolves have been keeping them safe." 

"Pups!" Hlebard laughed back in mock outrage. As he stepped from the trail a small group of giant warriors stepped up behind him. "You see the world upside down and backwards, Old One. Are those black-haired whelps of yours full grown?" 

Fjolver just laughed in reply, his sides heaving and his face going red. "What brings you here?" he asked when his breath returned. 

"Bad business," said Hlebard. His voice dropped to a growl and the laughter fled from him. 

"We have just arrived," the older giant swept his hand back toward his followers to show them standing with their burdens still on their shoulders. "You are welcome to come within our camp." 

"We offer our thanks," said Hlebard. "All blood-debt and hard words are left outside the ring of fire-light. Let they be forgotten in the dark." 

"Let them be forgotten," Fjolver and all his warriors replied together. 

The two leaders reached out and clasped forearms then Hlebard's warriors walked past the two and into the camp. The grey wolves ran to meet their masters. The giants kicked and swatted at them playfully as they went to greet their fellows from the west. Hlebard's and Fjolver's warriors showed no sign of any feud or ill-feelings that might have lain between them. Instead they seemed like old friends, meeting for the first time in several seasons. This was the way of the giants of the western hills and mountains. Campsites were sacred places. Only a renegade would bring or start a feud within the boundary of the fire's light. 

"Hlebard, your news?" asked Fjolver, "Do you have time to first break the fast of the trail? We have food and drink to share." 

"No," Hlebard shook his head. "We must first speak of these tidings." 

Fjolver turned toward his warriors and called to a large, red-haired giant. "The fire is cold. Svarang, you are the fire's servant for this camp." 

"Aye Fjolver," the giant bowed his head respectfully. He lowered the end of the huge pole that sat on his shoulder and as he did, the giant behind him shifted the ponderous weight off his own shoulder as well. The canvas sacks that were slung from the wooden pole smacked solidly against the stones and gave forth an audible grunt. Now the other giants began to drop their burdens as well, till they had piled them in several rows. 

Svarang led two of his fellows off to the edge of the camp. They passed close to the gnome Ivo. One huge foot seemed about to trod upon the small wizard, but the power of the spell turned the giants tread and the foot came down to one side, while Ivo kept up the weaving of his spell. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Module B1 - Reply to a post




It is impossible to look at B1 now as it was when it was released. For me this was the first published module I'd ever seen other than Temple of the Frog from the Blackmoor supplement. Each step within those halls was filled with danger and mystery and every encounter was something new. Just that first encounter with the magic mouth became an iconic image in the future lore of the game in the same way as Tomb of Horrors Green Devil Face or Undermountains decent into the shield-lined pit from the center of the Inn. B1 is a test for the DM and either a frustrating experience or a spur to creativity.

And a further reply

You seem to be implying that the fond memories of B1 are a form of nostalgia and that the module itself is lacking. The module itself is fantastic but I'm not sure that modern imagination and creativity is able to appreciate it. There is a sensory overload involved in the amount of material presented to those involved in modern RPGs that is inherently distracting to the creative and imaginative mind that simply did not exist 35+ years ago. We were presented with a fairly blank slate at the time RPGs were born with few if any options to fill in those blank spaces with anything other than what our own imaginations and creative inspiration could steal from other mediums. If you wanted to run a Cthulhu scenario you read Lovecraft or Lovecraftian fiction and distilled game material from that, If you wanted a dungeon that descended deeper and deeper into the depths you drew it passage by passage, room by room, and stocked it to the best of your ability. If you wanted to push your adventure up a notch you had to make it up because Holmes Basic just stopped and pointed you in the direction of Further. There is nothing like absolute necessity to spur creativity. B1 provided inspiration but never tried to force direction. B1 points to far horizons that have no limits. It provides a template that can simply be repeated but beckons to be personalized, expanded, strangely altered and enchanted by the hand of a DM who wants to make the game their own. I look at B1 today and it still inspires me to go in new directions, or revist old ones and think it is a shame if this small piece of magic has been lost to the world of gaming in the intervening years.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The WH40k Ciaphas Cain series.


I've been reading it for awhile now, among other things. I have the two three-novel collections that feature a few short pieces and the three novels that came afterwards. Just finished novel 8 'The Last Ditch' and making my way to novel 9 'The Greater Good'. It is basically 'Flashman' meets WH40k. I found the 1st 2 novels to be the best and a distinct lessening of quality in novel 6. I don't remember novel 9 exactly but I did read it and don't remember being impressed (hopefully I'm mistaken).

These stories are decently written but I wouldn't think they'd be as enjoyable or nearly as funny to anyone not fairly familiar with the WH40K setting and the novels. The setting and other fictional work, is of a grim and repressive far, far future. The Ciaphas Cain series makes sure that the reader understands that that future is also British. It seems to rest somewhere between the TV series 'Rome' Britishy Romans who are perfectly cultured and brutal and Python's 'Life of Brian's Britishy Romans making you conjugate Latin (or they'll cut your balls off). 

I think the best book is the first so certainly the place I'd recommend to start with if anyone wants to give the series a try.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 140



 The mountainside was a wild, rocky place. As the summit grew nearer the trail steepened till they were all half-climbing, leaning into their staves or against each other for support. Harald had run up the path, quick and sure as a mountain goat despite his size and years. He ran back and now lead them to the camp. 

"How did they get here?" asked Ghibelline. "Not the way we just came." 

"Over the top and down from the other side," said Harald. "It's the peak up there, beyond it's a range, not just a single mountain."

"How can you tell?" Harold asked. 

"You can see more from the camp," said the ranger, "it's on a ledge that curves round the side." 

"This trail, the stones have been carved away by water, haven't they?" Ghibelline ran his hand down the smooth side of the rock. 

"Water," said Ivo, "water and time. The two will split a mountain." 

"No sign of it now I suppose," said Harold loudly. "All this talk, it's getting me thirsty." 

"Quiet there..." warned Harald. "There's a pond by the camp, though the giants and their wolves have been at it. Keep him away from the waterskins, he'll drain them dry." 

"Hey..." Harold started to complain, but Ivo put his finger to his lips and hushed him. 

***

They came up from the steep trail between a boulder to the east and dense brush to their left, the west side of the ledge. 

"We've turned," whispered Ghibelline. 

"Yea," that trail seemed straight enough didn't it," Harald agreed. "Loose an arrow down that path and you'd see the curve." 

The wood elf and the ranger circled the clearing, one to either side as the others made their way up onto the wide ledge. There was a clearing before them, much like the little spring they had left below, but here the trees had been felled and the stumps either pulled up or turned into the legs of a bench and table of massive size. The center of the clearing was bare except for a large pit, the remains of a campfire still smouldering within the circle of stone. A roasting spit was left above the embers and on it the bones of a massive elk, bits of bloody flesh and gristle still clinging to the ribs and haunch. 

The ranger came back to the group as they gathered by the firepit. He watched them for a moment, a tinge of resentment and anger at the limits set upon him by Telenstil, but a stronger sense of care for his companions overwhelmed such petty thoughts. He was angry because he could not protect them, the same way that he had failed to protect his homeland from the depredations of the giants. The memories of the dead came back to haunt him. They fled and each step that took them further from Nosnra and his steading ate into Harald's spirit, gnawing him down to his heart. 

"Could we cook some food?" asked the halfling staring at the smouldering ashes in the pit. 

"We should not stay that long," said Telenstil. 

"This place is no better than the spring," said Harald. "Up there the trail is above us, and there is even less cover here." 

"They've cut down all the trees," said Gytha. "Those stumps are old." 

Harald nodded in agreement. "They've been using this as a camp for some time." 

"Where did they go?" asked Talberth. "And why did they come here?" 

"They went downhill," answered Harald. "The path they took is to the east, it goes down and up along that side of the mountain." 

"More settlements lie to the east," said Telenstil. "Those messengers, they were headed in that direction, and those herdsmen they were coming from the east." 

"These mountains and hills are thick with giants," Harald said grimly. "They infest this land." 

"Well, other than giants we should not have any beasts or monsters to worry about," said Telenstil brightly. 

"What of those wolves?" asked Harold. The halfing felt more and more lost out in the woods beyond the walls of cities and the comfort of paved streets and warm beds. 

"They serve the giants," said Harald. 

"That doesn't make me feel any better," Harold replied. 

* * * 

"What now?" asked Harold. 

"I should have brought a sage along," said Telenstil. "Perhaps it would have been a good idea at that. We keep moving," he said to Harold and the others. 

"Then we move," said Ghibelline firmly. He looked from one to the other of his companions till he had met each of their eyes, even that of the small orc who kept himself behind the halfling. "I tell you I cannot feel anything but hope about our actions. I was in a place equal to that of the very Hells. Death would have released me but not before much pain. Torture was my fate at the hands of those monsters, you freed me as you freed Jalal." 

"I regret that he did not enjoy his freedom long," Telenstil said sadly. 

"I wish that he had lived..." said Ghibelline. 

"We all do," Gytha touched his arm. Ghibelline smiled. 

"I can speak for him, escaping was enough, just one breath of freedom was enough. I never thought I'd see the sky or be among the trees again. Whatever happens I have had my freedom. All you have yours, before I was captured I didn't know, not till we stepped from Nosnra's hall, not till then..." 

"We had better go," Telenstil told them. "But Ghibelline. Everyone. Ghibelline speaks true. We are here by our choice, free to go if that is how our fate takes us." 

Harald shook his head but did not speak. The old ranger lead them from the giants' camp, taking them along the eastern edge of the slope where a path had been cut through the boulders and the trees. Stones had simply been tossed aside or split and the fragments rolled down the hill. The giants had carved their trail long ago and kept it in use, no plants had taken root. During the spring the path ran like a city sewer, dark silt and mud pouring down, cutting deeper into the oerth till there was only bedrock paving the way. 

This was a stark land, the hills turned quickly into mountains and the mountains seemed to go on forever, rising higher and higher as they climbed toward the west. The lower slopes were thick with green, and valleys were plentiful between serrated peaks. As the mountains grew taller, snow sat upon their shoulders like great white shawls, the tops rising above, too high for the frozen carpet, some so tall that they disappeared in the clouds. The view offered to the party as they stepped upon the giants trail was breathtaking. It forced a smile to the ranger's lips. The grandeur of Oerth, its vastness and beauty struck a chord at the center of his being. He felt comforted by the sight. 

"This is the Oerth Mother's true temple," he said. 

"The trees are pleasant, though it is a little sad to see them penned by those mountains," said Ghibelline. 

"They are a might high," mused Ivo. 

"The stones up among the peaks, they're old, its said they make the howls that you hear on the wind," Harald told them. "They cry out as time wears them down and the cold splits them. That's why mountain dwarves are grim, living up among the ancient stones." 

"We are truly in the middle of nowhere," complained Harold, but quietly. 

They all stood for a moment, looking out from the ledge toward the north and west. The sound of the stones calling out seemed to be on the wind. It made the halfling shiver and brought the ranger back from his revery. 

"Wolves!" he cursed. "Look down there." he pointed to the valley floor to their east. Half a dozen grey shapes moved along the bare path far below. They howled and their voices were not that of ancient rock or wind. 

"They're above us too," warned Ghibelline. 

The first call had come down to them from the mountaintop and the wolves below them cried out an answer to that call. 


Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - part 139

"Do we still run, or are we turning back to the steading?" asked Harald. 

The ranger stood at the end of the gully with Ivo and Telenstil beside him. The elf did not miss the displeasure in Harald's voice. 

"We will turn back, but not yet," said Telenstil. "For now, yes we run, and still we need to find a place to rest, gather supplies and make plans." 

"I thought that was why we went down that cursed hole," Harald nodded back toward the passage and the shaft down to the ruin.

"It was," said Ivo, "and since we didn't find any, we need to look again." 

"Then we had best start looking now," said Harald gruffly. 

"Lead us away from here," Telenstil told him. The elf put his hand on the ranger's arm. "I know you want to find a safe way for us to travel, but stay close." 

Harald nodded, accepting Telenstil's command but grudgingly. "Have Ghibelline up at the front while I am scouting, he knows the woods as well as I." 

"Ahead," said Telenstil, "not far." 

"I know, I know," muttered Harald. "I know." 

The ranger set off, disappearing into the woods that surrounded the crevice. He made his way to the north and west, away from the swath of devastation left by the gibberlings, toward the mountains and the lands untraveled by man. 

* * * 

The sky was purple, like a drop of ink swirled into a cup of water. Even the humans could make out dim shapes in the pre-dawn light. The ranger had no trouble with the dark, he moved quiet and sure as hunting cat, seeming to meld into the brush and brambles. 

The small company trekked along all morning. Their pace was slow, the old gnome, the halfling, the small orc, even Talberth the young mage held the others back. The elves, Telenstil and Ghibelline, moved through the woods with the ranger's skill. 

Gytha had been born and raised among the hills and wildlands of her home, and Derue, though silent, seemed tireless and moved with a strange grace. At mid-morning they rested. Hours of travel but they had gone only a handful of miles. 

The way had been rough, the forest thick and filled with thorn bushes, the ground rising and uneven with no real path to follow. Harald found an old deer trail a little after dawn and the narrow track had led them to a spring. The water was cold, flowing down from the mountain ice high above. A small pool collected in a hollowed shelf of rock, the shallow basin formed by countless years of the water's ceaseless flow. 

The ranger had disappeared after leading them to the spring, he returned suddenly, stepping from a hidden path and out into the bare space of rock around the pool. "Telenstil," Harald said. "You will want to see this." 

"What have you found?" asked the mage. 

"We've climbed higher than I thought," the ranger wiped the back of his hand across his brow. "There's a cliff nearby, it looks back on the way we've come." 

"Any sign of pursuit?" Telenstil asked him. The elf crossed around the pool and followed the ranger into the woods, 

"Nothing," answered Harald. 

"I will come as well," said Ivo. 

"Why not rest while you can?" Harald asked him. 

The gnome looked at the others. His companions were lying about the small clearing, some asleep with their packs pillowed beneath their heads. "Talberth is resting enough for both of us," he nodded to the mage whose breath whistled out in sharp snores. 

* * * 

The land dropped away suddenly, the wood ran to the edge of the cliff, trees jutting at angles, roots sticking from the steep side. Far below, the ravine that held the entrance to the ruin could not be seen but a wide bare strip of land pointed to it as if it were a city gate. Gibberlings had flowed like a river from the ravine, annihilating everything in their path, leaving only a large tree here and there amid the desolation that had survived the stream of claws. 

The monster's nails grew quickly and never stopped. They worked them down on stone or wood, scratching away even at metal. They ate most things, leaf and fruit, root and bark, but they preferred flesh and bone. They stripped the forest bare even churning the ground in their passing. Harald stood behind Telenstil and Ivo, looking over their heads at the scene spread out below them. 

"It goes on for miles," said Telenstil peering at the dark path of destruction left by the gibberlings. 

"I wish it went through Nosnra's steading," Ivo said. 

"No chance of that," Harald told him. "Goes too far to the east and the north. Probably go downhill first chance they get." 

"Yes," Telenstil agreed, "unless something distracts them. Any giants out searching would draw them." 

"No chance of that, they set out before we did," said Harald thinking about the tracks he'd seen. "They were streaming from that pit before we'd left the steading."

"What woke them?" wondered Telenstil. 

"Not us," said Ivo. "That shaft up through the stone. That took time, even for those beasts, but fate had a hand in it I do not doubt. Some purpose... that was a close thing, if we'd been in their path..." 

"We'd be dead," concluded Harald. "Wait...back, back, I see something." 

A wolf the size of a pony appeared on the dark trail below them. It came from the south as they had, its head toward the ground. Harald could picture its nose snuffling as it found their scent and its actions seemed to match his thoughts. It stood and raised its head. The cry came to them, drifting up like a cloud of smoke, a long drawn out wail. Then it stuttered into a handful of barks. The answer came both from the south and the east, though the cries from the east were very near, while the call from the south was distant and faint. 

"That's done it," said Harald. 

"They have not found us yet," said Telenstil. 

"They are on our trail," Harald nodded toward the wolf. "And they are close." 

"We are better off higher up then," said Ivo. "I don't mean some cave, they'll starve us out or block us in. We'll have to fight them off." 

"We will talk as we move," Telenstil held his arm out inviting them to rejoin the others at the spring. 

"This place is no good," said Ivo. "There are cliffs above us, they'll roll boulders down and squash us like melons." 

Harald looked toward the steep rise above them. A series of ridges like huge steps cut into the side of the mountain. 

"More than a hill isn't it," said Ivo. 

"A tall hill," Harald admitted. 

"Or a small mountain," countered Ivo. 

***

Ghibelline met them as they returned. "What is wrong?" he asked reading their expressions. 

"Wolves on our trail, not wild ones either, the giant's pets and hounds," Harald said to him. 

"Come, everyone up," Telenstil called to the others, "We must be going." 

Derue was sitting with his legs folded ankles atop knees. He rose in a single fluid motion. While they were gone he had found himself a length of wood and with a borrowed knife had cut away the branches. Now he had a staff, a help to walk with and in his hands a weapon to be feared. 

"Someone wake up Talberth," laughed Ivo. 

* * * 

"Sleep...let me sleep," Talberth groaned as Ivo prodded him in the shoulder. 

"Company's coming lad," said the old gnome. "Guests for supper, maybe lunch if we don't get moving." 

"I'm awake," Talberth pushed himself up. The mage's eyes were red and thick with sleep. He crawled to the edge of the pool and dunked his head in the chill water. "Yi!" Talberth gave a cry.

 "Quiet there," Ivo chided him. He left the young mage shaking out his wet hair and shivering. 

Talberth was the last, the others stood about the spring, prepared to go, some calm as was Derue, others impatient, all more angry than afraid. 

"Ivo what of magic?" asked Gytha. "Can we hide from them, Talberth and Telenstil, can they not strike down those that follow us?" 

"Illusion is good for fooling the eye, there are magics that can fool the other senses," the old gnome told her, "I can weave such around us that these beasts will think us stones or trees. Spells that will sow disorder among them or send their worst fears hounding after them." 

"And I can strike some down," spoke up Telenstil. "But more will come. These giants are tenacious, their strength is vast, as will be the numbers that gather here by Nosnra's command. We will hide or fight as we must but we came to do more than just strike a blow against a score of giants." 

"I came to kill Nosnra," said Harald firmly. 

"Yes," said Telenstil, "and to find out who aids Nosnra or leads him. We have bought some time for those in lands below, for Geoff and Sterich and the Yeomanry, and beyond. I tell you what we have done so far is not enough." 

"Telenstil take us back to the steading," Harald faced the wizard and though all heard what he had to say, his plea was directed at Telenstil alone. "Use the magic that has taken us to and from that place already, stop this running, we will never find a place of safety in these mountains. While we have strength let's use it, use it, kill Nosnra and as many of his kind as we can." 

"Friends," Ghibelline came from the edge of trees. "We waste time here." 

"Yes. Harald you speak from despair," said Telenstil. "The time is not yet, I hope it never comes, when we must trade our lives for Nosnra. We will bring him low and we will survive. Now lead us to a better place to fight if that is what we are forced to do. Up the mountain." 

"I go, but I will speak of this again," the ranger set off and Ghibelline urged the others on. 

"There is more of the track we took before," said Ghibelline as they started out. "Harald says it must be goats beyond the trees, up there," he pointed above them toward the rocky slopes, "this must be a mountain, nothing except stones. I've never seen a mountain before." 

"Surely you have," said Gytha. 

"Not up close, no," Ghibelline smiled. "Hill lands are different and I've lived most of my life among the trees." 

"I've never seen the woods except looking down on them from the hills," said Gytha. 

"I'd rather not see either," complained Harold. "The only stones I want are set in walls or paving the streets, the only trees should be floorboards and tables." 

"Quiet down," Harald said in a sharp whisper. The ranger had circled back on them and stood on a short ledge that overlooked their path. "There is a camp up ahead. Empty now but giants were there this morning." 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - part 138




"Leaving!" Talberth cried. "We can't, there is too much here." 

"Talberth, the danger outweighs the reward," Telenstil explained calmly. "We have rested, somewhat at least, now it is time for us to move on." 

"We can't," Talberth waved his hand about trying to summon up the words that would convince them but he could find none, "I can't." 

"Will you abandon us?" asked Telenstil. 

"No, no," Talberth. "Of course not." The mage squared his shoulders. "But here, this place, it may contain magics that would destroy the giants completely." 

"There is power here, yes," said Telenstil,"and I do not know. You could be right, but look around, the power is not ours to control." 

"If we spent the time we could control the power," Talberth slapped his fist, "I know it." 

"I am sorry Talberth," said Telenstil, "I do not agree. We will gather our packs and go. Come everyone, I wish that there had been more time for us to rest but we need to leave here now." 

"It will still be dark out," Harald said. 

"Better to be outside in the dark than in here any longer," Telenstil replied. 

"I'll go see what it is like out there," the ranger volunteered. 

"No," Telenstil shook his head. "No, we go together." 

"Telenstil, a little scouting won't hurt." said Harald. 

"It will no doubt help," said Telenstil, "it has helped, but not so far ahead. We will face what lies in wait for us together. Our strength is greatest only when we are not divided." 

It was Harald's turn to shake his head, but he did not press his objections further. 

* * * 

"How is he?" Harold asked. 

The halfling knelt beside Little Rat and watched the slow rise and fall of the orc's chest. 

"Healed. Sleeping now," smiled Gytha. 

"I brought your pack," said Harold, "you heard?" 

"I heard," she yawned. "This one will need to rest, we will need someone to carry him. Where are the others?" 

The halfling looked at her with a quizzical expression. His eyes widened and he slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. "The orcs!" 

"Could they have escaped?" Gytha asked. 

"I'd better go find Telenstil," Harold rose quickly, he scanned the room trying to decide where the elf had gone. 

"Ask Harald to come here," Gytha called after him as the halfling took off at a run, "he needs to carry..." but Harold was already out of sight. Gytha busied herself with her pack, it contained little enough. With her horse and main supplies destroyed by the giants, the small bag she had brought with her on the raid of the steading was all that she had left. she would need to call upon the Saint's bounty for mere sustenance if they could not manage to supply themselves and this Gytha hated to do.

They'd taken hide pelts from the giants' hall and made crude sacks and cloaks from them. Beef cut from the body of giant cows, a herd slaughtered by magic bolts, filled some of the hide bags. The meat, blackened by fire, was wrapped in uncured leather, but it would not last. Already it had begun to decay, in a day the green rot would take hold if they could not spare the time to cook or cure the meat and then they would be left only with the crumbs of hard rations in the bottoms of their packs. 

The smell from the hide sack she carried made Gytha wrinkle her nose and beside her Little Rat did the same. His eyes opened and he pushed himself up on his elbows. A long tongue licked thin lips and he yawned. 

"Hungry," the young orc said. "What smell good?" 

* * * 

They looked like balls of fur, no sign of head, or legs, or even life. The gibberlings carpeted across the floor of the passage, they were mere pups, but they would claw and bite if even the tiniest spark of life remained. Light was the only thing they feared. A torch would make them cower and run, and brighter light would freeze them in their tracks, drop them into motionless huddled shapes that would not move to save their lives. 

Ivo and Telenstil were the last to leave. The elven mage had sent the others ahead to wait by the opening that had been clawed through the ceiling by the pack of gibberling adults. There had been forceful words spoken to Talberth, the young wizard hemmed and hawed and dragged his feet, not wanting to leave his friends, but desiring to stay and explore the ancient ruin. At the last Talberth turned his back on the chamber of pillars and monstrous golems then marched sullenly away. 

"Look at them, the wee beasts," said Ivo. 

"Amazing," nodded Telenstil in agreement. "At a different time I would stay here with Talberth and explore." 

"I'd send for my cousins back home and look through this place properly," Ivo chuckled. "The things you find when you can't do anything about them. It reminds me of when I was young, long time ago now," He held a torch in his hand and lowered it to a pile a sticks and rags as he spoke. The flame leapt and danced among the tinder bursting into a blaze then dying low. "That should hold them." said Ivo. He left the torch atop the fire and retrieved a magic stone from the floor. "Don't want to leave this behind." 

"We had best join the others," Telenstil said wistfully. 

As Ivo put the magic stone away, placing it back within a metal sphere that he snapped shut with a loud click, the hall dimmed. Instantly the gibberling young began to move. Those furthest from the fire were partially hidden from its light. Some disappeared back into the pillared hall, most shifted but the flickering light from the fire was enough to hold them still. Ivo and Telenstil beat a hasty retreat down the passage and rejoined the rest of their companions. The fire would burn for some time, more than long enough for all of them to escape back to the forested hills above.

* * * 

"There you are!" Ghibelline was the first to see their approach. 

"Is everyone ready?" Telenstil asked. 

"As we will ever be," answered Gytha. "Harald has been arguing with his little twin the whole time. We are going to abandon the orcs?" 

"It is too late for them, as I said," Talberth spoke sharply. 

"But did you see them..." Gytha went on. 

"They wouldn't have survived, I wouldn't have either if I hadn't known the words to say and the language to say them in," Talberth replied. "They're gone." 

"Let us be off then," said Telenstil. "Harald, can you climb up, is the rope in place?" 

"I told you," the ranger said. He seemed to speak to all the others at once. "I can climb it, but I've been waiting here. Gytha insisted." 

"She was right," Telenstil said quickly before Gytha could reply. The elf felt the tension which radiated from one to another. They had not found rest within the ancient ruins, and leaving it seemed to have brought out the strain that their flight from the giants' hall had set upon them. "I want us to stay together and not to break off into smaller groups or disappear one by one," he looked at each of them. "Harald you are our scout, but more caution is needed, and that means lesser distance." 

"A scout is best left on his own," said Harald. "What good can I do if we all walk into a trap together?" 

"Any warning will be of a help," Telenstil replied. "We will face any traps together, and our strength combined will overcome them. If a trap takes you, as this place almost did, then you will not be able to help us. I know you are used to scouting for your wildland patrols, but this is different, we are not scouts or soldiers, and we do not wish to lose you even to save ourselves."